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The Snake Eater
The Markhor is the national animal of Pakistan; the name is of Persian origin, which means to kill a snake. It also signifies the military capabilities of Pakistan. Due to this, it is the symbol of the ISI, which is the intelligence agency of Pakistan.
Markhors were popular animals to hunt during the reign of the British Raj and post-1947 in Pakistan. Ceaseless hunting led Markhors to stand at the brink of extinction by 1990. As a result, the Pakistani government placed a ban on hunting Markhors to preserve the species. Moreover, as part of the conservation process, the government issued expensive hunting licenses to hunt down senior Markhors.
Markhors are normally 26 to 45 inches in height, have light brown and black coats, and weigh 32 to 110 kilograms. Male ones generally have a longer beard, while female markhors tend to be redder in colour. Markhors have corkscrew-like horns, which are located closer to their heads and spread upwards.
In males, markhors horns tend to grow up to 65 inches, while horns in females only grow up to 10 inches. Markhors are located in Central Asia, the Karakoram, and the Himalayas. They tend to live in pine, oak, and juniper forests. Markhor is awake in the early morning and in the late afternoon, as they are diurnal. In summer and spring, markhors tend to eat grass, while in winter, they tend to consume soft shoots, leaves, or shrubs.
Sub-species of Markhors
There are several types of Markhors ranging from Astor, Bukharan, Kabul, Kashmir, and Suleiman Markhor. Astor Markhors reside in the forest of Laghman and Nuristan of Afghanistan. Bukharan Markhors are located in the north upper Banks of the Amu Darya and Pyanj Rivers, which flow from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan. The habitat of the Kabul Markhor is the Kabul Province and the mountains of Kapisa.
The hunting of Markhor began during the reign of the British Raj till 1947 and continued even after Pakistan gained independence. It continued primarily because of how dangerous & exciting it was to pursue Markhors in the high mountain terrains. By 1990, the population of the Markhor, the national animal, was concerning, as it was at the edge of extinction.
In 1983, the wildlife department of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) government began the Chitral Conservation Trophy Hunting Programme. This program continued until 1991 when the Pakistani government placed a ban on hunting Markhors. During those 8 years, when the program was running, only 2 markhors were hunted every year.
In 1998, the Chitral Conservation Trophy Hunting Programme continued in Chitral wherein the community actively participated. Tushi Sasha and Gehrait were the 2 conservancies created to conserve Markhor in 2000. The Trophy hunting of Markhors in Kashmir has been organised every year since then.
Around September, the KPK Wildlife Department looks for parties interesting in hunting, by advertising international and national media. The parties place bids, and the highest bidder gets the license to hunt a Markhor within 14 days. 80% of the profits generated by the Trophy Hunting Programme were given to the local community.
There is an expensive license fee imposed by the government. Despite this, the American Hunter Edward Joseph Hudson hunted a Markhor in Tushi Sasha, paying a permit fee of $88,0000 for the Trophy Hunting Programme. This scheme is a brilliant example of conservation and sustainability.
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