Nestled in the heart of South Asia, Pakistan boasts a breathtaking landscape that showcases the wonders of nature in all its glory. From the iconic Shah Jahan Mosque to the mesmerizing turquoise waters of Attabad Lake, Pakistan’s diverse geography leaves visitors in awe. Adding to its avian diversity and rich natural heritage, just like the Chukar Partridge is the national bird, Pakistan proudly claims the markhor as its national animal.
Revered for its majestic presence and remarkable adaptability, the markhor holds a special place in the nation’s heart. The markhor, scientifically known as Capra falconeri, is a species of wild goat characterized by its distinct spiraled horns and a robust, muscular build. This magnificent creature is native to the mountainous regions of Pakistan, where it thrives amidst the rugged terrains and soaring peaks. It symbolizes strength, resilience, and determination—qualities that reflect the spirit of Pakistan.
Join us as we embark on a journey through Pakistan’s diverse geography and uncover the enchanting tales of its national animal, the markhor.
Screw-horned Markhor is really a Snake Eater?
Markhor is a wild goat among its relatives, it fights with many other predators like snakes, snow leopards, and wolves to protect its family, which is why many people call it a snake eater, the name of this goat is interpreted from the Persian language which means Snake(Mar) Eater(Khor), but there is no evidence of markhor eating snakes or killing them. It also signifies the military capabilities of Pakistan and as such, 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 and IUCN included markhor in the red list as near threatened 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 from the shoulder and 52 to 73 inches long, have light brown and black coats, and weigh around 32 to 110 kilograms. Male markhor generally has a long beard, while female markhor tends 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. Markhors usually tend to live in pine, oak, and juniper forests. They are mainly active in the early morning and 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 Pakistan’s National Animal
The markhor is a species that exhibits several distinct subspecies. These subspecies showcase the natural diversity and adaptations of the markhor across different regions.
Found in the Astor Valley and surrounding regions of Gilgit-Baltistan, this subspecies features impressive, tightly twisted horns and a relatively light-coloured coat.
Inhabiting the Kashmir Valley and surrounding areas, the Kashmir markhor has magnificent spiraling horns that can reach impressive lengths. Its coat displays various shades, ranging from reddish-brown to grey.
Native to Central Asia, including parts of Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, the Bukharan markhor has distinctive, corkscrew-shaped horns and a thick, shaggy coat that provides insulation against harsh winters.
Found in the Sulaiman mountains of Pakistan, this subspecies possesses large, spiral horns and a coat that varies from light to dark brown. It is well-adapted to the rugged terrain of its habitat.
It inhabits the rugged and mountainous terrain of Afghanistan and parts of northwestern Pakistan, known for its impressive spiral horns, which can grow to remarkable lengths, often exceeding 1.5 meters.
Trophy Hunting of Adult Male Markhors
The hunting of markhors 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 cliff terrains. By 1990, the population of the Markhor in Pakistan was concerning, as it was at the edge of extinction.
In 1990, Gilgit-Baltistan and the wildlife department introduced the Trophy Hunting Program. For several years, only 2 markhors were hunted every year to increase the population and till now only old markhors are allowed to hunt. The parties place bids, and the highest bidder gets the license to hunt a Markhor within 14 days. The highest bid ever received to hunt one markhor was $160,250 by M/S Mehran Safari.
Locals of Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir help to keep an eye on the markhor’s growth and protect from illegal hunting. The government also rewards the local community with 80% of the profits generated from the Trophy Hunting Program. This scheme is a brilliant example of conservation and sustainability.
The markhor holds a special place in the hearts of Pakistanis, symbolizing strength and resilience. Conservation efforts have been implemented to protect the markhor, including hunting bans and conservation programs. The markhor exhibits various subspecies, each with unique characteristics and adaptations.
Trophy hunting of old markhors has been regulated through the hunting program. This program has successfully combined conservation and sustainability while providing economic benefits to local communities.
Overall, the markhor represents Pakistan’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage and promoting harmonious coexistence with wildlife. 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.
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