THE Salt Range of Pakistan, spreading from tehsil Dina in Jhelum to Kalabagh in the Mianwali district, is a scenic terrain with its unique flora and mystic heritage sites.
But what makes the valley more enchanting is its rare fauna. The patch of Salt Range which falls in the areas of Pind Dadan Khan, Choa Saidan Shah and Kallar Kahar is considered a heaven on earth for the wild fauna.
These three Tehsils house historic sites like Nandna Fort, Kussak Fort, Makhiala Fort, Katas Raj Temples, Malot Fort, Takht-i-Babri and Bagh-i-Safa besides different kinds of minerals.
The fascinating hills of this area covered with thick trees and different wild plants are also the sanctuary of urials and partridges.
Being a habitat of these two rare species, the valley has always been an attractive spot for hunters and poachers alike.
The interesting thing is that people who come here for hunting urials are foreigners while poachers are always from Pakistan.
President Ayub Khan used to spend weekends during winter season while hunting urials and partridges in this valley while Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan also used to hunt partridges in the Salt Range during his youth days.
A visit to the area in the early morning or at sunset casts a spell on the visitor as one is gripped by the shrill chirping of partridges and other birds.
Though whispering of birds could be heard while walking through the rough paths, to have a glimpse of the urials one needs to take the risk of stepping into the mountainous terrain.
If you step onto the treacherous hilly terrain of Diljabba Mountain, you can be greeted by the flocks of urials, but at distant as this mammal never let the visitor to come close.
The urial (ovis orientalis punjaben-sis) is a sub-species group of wild sheep (ovis orientalis).
The mammal has a reddish brown long fur which dies away during winter. The male urial is recognised by its two prominent features.
It has a black ruff stretching from the neck to the chest and long horns. Though the female urial has also horns but they are shorter and compressed as compared to that of the male whose horns are as long as 28 to 35 inches curled upward from the top of the head.
The shoulder height of an urial can be from 31 to 35 inches. And it’s is the size of the male urial’s horns which makes it fit for hunting and also determines the age.
The mammal runs very fast and has the ability to sense the danger from a distant.
The total area of Chakwal district is 1,619,265 acres, three-forth of which is a good wildlife habitat.
The importance of the area in terms of wildlife could be visualised by the
fact that the Punjab wildlife and parks department has formed three protected areas.
The hunting of any kind is totally prohibited in the wildlife sanctuary (the area of Chhumbi Surla between Khokar Zer and Khokar Bala villages) and national park (the area of Chinji village of tehsil Talagang) while the game reserve area is only open for hunting when the department permits it.
There are 57 kinds of wild birds and 17 kinds of mammals found in the forests of Chakwal.
Due to the efforts of the PWPD, the population of urial is on the rise and according to officials Salt Range inhabits more than 3,000 urials while the population of partridges is also in-
“We have set up 15 checkposts and also established wildlife protection force to preserve the precious wildlife,” said Rana Shahbaz, the deputy director of wildlife in the Salt Range.
Every year there is trophy hunting in which hunters from different countries participate. This year, the authorities have issued 12 permits for hunting of urials.
One permit has been issued at the hefty cost of 16,000 dollar. “The trophy hunting is necessary as the male urials who grow old hinder the growth of specie as they do not let young males to come closer to the females and they themselves are not able for mating,” explains Khalid Hassan Sahi, the district wildlife officer.
“People hailing from Gilgit-Baltistan are associated with this business and they facilitate the foreign hunters,” said Rana Shahbaz.
He added that urials found in the northern areas of Pakistan was more costly as one urial there fetched 90,000 dollars.
“That urial is a sub-species group of goat that’s why it is more costly than the urial found in the Salt Range which is a sub-species of sheep,” he added.
Despite the fact that Salt Range and other areas of the country are blessed with rare and unique fauna, wildlife in the country largely remains unstudied due to lack of interest by the rulers. Many rare species of birds and mammals have faced extinction in Pakistan.
Those who survive are under constant threats from poachers and hunters. “We are trying our best to thwart poaching but the area is too vast to cover. That’s why many poachers go scot-free,” admitted an official.
The irony is that in other countries governments spend money on wildlife departments but in Pakistan the wildlife department is considered as a source of revenue for the government.
The shortage of adequate staff, problem of boarding and lodging during the field duty for the personnel and lack of communication, mobility and proper incentives are some major problems the PWPD is facing.
“Regular wildlife census should be held so that wildlife could be improved in the area,” added the official.