Conflicting claims follow locals’ attempt to stop ‘illegal urial hunting’


CHAKWAL: Locals stopped a Russian hunter, his cameraman and a pair of wildlife department officials who they believed were involved in illegally hunting the endangered Punjab urial at a wildlife sanctuary on Sunday, a claim that was denied by the department.

The department has said the hunter was only visiting the sanctuary, which is near Kallar Kahar.

“The hunter who was stopped by the locals hunted an urial in Chakwal on Saturday and on Sunday he was just visiting the area,” Punjab Wildlife Department Deputy Director General Khalid Ayaz said, adding that he would look into the incident.

According to the chairman of the Kallar Kahar Municipal Committee Malik Mohammad Ashraf, a permit to hunt the urial was issued for the Jhelum area, but hunting in the Chumbi Surla Sanctuary – where the wildlife officials brought the hunter – is prohibited.

Urial trophy hunting is an annual activity for foreign hunters in the Salt Range, while locals tend to stay away because of the cost. This year, the Punjab Wildlife Department issued 16 trophy hunting permits for the area.

According to a notification, four permits were issued for the Salt Range area that falls in Kala Bagh in the Mianwali district and 12 were issued for the area that falls in the Chakwal and Jhelum districts.

Hunting is prohibited in the wildlife sanctuary, and conducted by community-based organisations (CBO) that operate under the wildlife law.

Permits are issued to these organisations, which bring hunters from abroad.

On Sunday, a group of locals led by the Kallar Kahar Municipal Committee chairman stopped wildlife officials and two Russians near Kallar Kahar.

“We learned that officials from the wildlife department were facilitating foreigners in illegal hunting, that too in the wildlife sanctuary,” said Chaudhry Shafqat Ali, a resident.

“We are aware that a permit to hunt urial was issued to a CBO in Jhelum, but instead of conducting the hunt in the Jhelum area, wildlife department officials brought the foreign hunters to the sanctuary area. It is very easy to kill an urial in the sanctuary area, while the area in Jhelum is rocky and killing an urial is a difficult task,” he added.

He claimed that as the group tried to stop the vehicles in which the officials and hunters were travelling, the first vehicle drove off, while the second was stopped for an hour. “We called the Kallar Kahar police and told them about the illegal hunting,” Mr Ali said, adding that the police assured that they would come to them but never showed up.

“We have filed an application with the Kallar Kahar police but an FIR has not been registered,” he said.

The Chakwal police, meanwhile, were unaware of the arrival of foreigners in the area. District Police Officer Sikandar Hayat said: “The wildlife department should have informed us about the arrival of foreigners.”

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2017