The daily dawn has reported that Urial (A type of wild Sheep – Ovis. vignei. punjabiensis) which was facing serious threat of extinction in Pakistan, the has made a remarkable comeback in the past decade mainly owing to strict conservation efforts by the Punjab wildlife department that include communication through mobile phone and security pickets in its habitat areas.
According to Punjab Wild life department estimates the total Urial population is around 2,500 in salt range of the district Mianwali, Chakwal, Jhehlum and Khushab whereas a small population of Urial dwell in the Kala-Chitta range in district Attock.
According to Punjab Wildlife Department in 2005 the Urial population was 1,500 which has improved to 2,150 in 2010, and the estimated Urial population after the breeding season in April 2011 is 2,500.
The officials attribute the growth in Urial population to strengthening of the enforcement force in the wildlife department.
?Poaching is almost negligible as we have armed and equipped mobile teams in the watch and ward section of the department. Besides, the interactions with locals have also helped in checking the illegal activity,? said Shabaz Rana, Deputy Director, Salt Range, Punjab Wildlife Department.
He said the staff after receiving information about poaching on mobile phones passed it on to security pickets? personnel, who immediately came into action and restricted the poachers? movement.
Pakistan is the last place towards the East where Urial is found in its natural habitat, and Punjab has the highest population of Urial in the region whereas the other two categories are Laddakh Urial and the Afghan Urial found also in Balochistan in the bordering districts.
Considered as the ancestor of modern sheep, Urial?s natural habitat is Central Asia ranging from Iran, western Kazakhstan, Afghanistan Ladakh, and Pakistan, where it is mainly found in northern Punjab.
Urial males have large horns, curling outwards from the top of the head turning in to end giving it a majestic looks, females have shorter, compressed horns, the generic name of Punjab Urial is Ovis vignei punjabiensis.
While poaching has been controlled in almost all the areas, but there are emerging threats to the Urial population like the increasing competition for food between Urial and the domestic animals, threats of disease due to frequent move ment of domestic animals in the Urial habitat, threats to the forests but the worst of them is lamb lifting by herdsmen as they know the local habitat, and sell it to the local agents between Rs5,000 to Rs10,000.
An official of wildlife department posted in Kalar Kahar said that the trend is increasing specially in Jhehlum because of the rough and difficult terrain of the district and the vastness of the area.
?Out of 868,000 acres of land in Jhehlum district, around 65 per cent is Urial habitat ranging from Mangla to Pir Khara near Lilla interchange on the motorway,? the official said.
The ownership of a pet Urial has been a status symbol in Pakistan and more people with large houses are seeking Urial lambs.
Deputy Director, Punjab Wildlife Department Raja Javed said, ?The Urial population has been recovering in recent years, but conservation status of Urial is still threatened due to human development, and there is a need to take the local herdsmen on board to discourage the lamb lifting.? According to Mr Javed, lambs taken by the shepherd and herdsmen have around 80 per cent mortality, as taking care of a newborn lamb without the natural mother is extremely difficult.
?Besides, there are serious psychical and psychological consequences of lamb lifting on the mother, which at times even results in her death,? he said.
The wildlife department is planning to launch an awareness campaign for the rich and influential informing them about the results and high price of lamb lifting on the whole herd and even restricting their growth.