A recent survey shows that Pakistan’s national mammal, the markhor, is making a comeback after dropping to dangerously low population levels. A report from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) says that the wild goats are responding well to conservation efforts.
The markhor is a mountain-dwelling goat that bears corkscrew-shaped horns. These unique horns can reach up to five feet in length, and make the animal a striking symbol of Pakistan’s rugged north. Inhabiting the craggy rocks and serving as prey for wolves and leopards, the goats play an important role in mountain ecosystem. As domestic goats and sheep have encroached on the markhor’s territory, and the animal has been hunted for its remarkable horns, however, it has become threatened.
The markhor was declared endangered in 1994 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and dropped to a low global population of only 2,500 animals in 2008. In a survey of Pakistan’s Kargah region, however, a recent survey puts the total markhor population of the region at 300 animals, up from a 1991 low of only 40-50. According to the WCS report, this estimate means that the total markhor population of the northern Gilgit-Baltistan area at 1500 animals, up from 1000 in 1999. Peter Zahler, Deputy Director of Asia Programs for WCS, says, “We are thrilled that markhor conservation efforts in Pakistan are paying off.”
The WCS has recently organized what they term “markhor conservancies” that match markhor herds to communities in their home ranges, and organize communication between those communities so that efforts can be coordinated. WCS efforts to protect the markhor are active in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the group also works to protect other species, such as leopards and the Asiatic black bear. The WCS also trains local rangers to monitor the wildlife and find and stop illegal logging and hunting in the area. WCS efforts in Pakistan began in 1997, and follows on the work of Dr. George Schaller, who first highlighted the markhors in his 1977 book “Mountain Monarchs.”
Of the markhor, Zahler says, “Markhor are part of Pakistan’s natural heritage, and we are proud to be assisting the communities of Gilgit-Baltistan and the Government of Pakistan to safeguard this iconic species.”
The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Pakistan efforts are supported by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and the Save Our Species Initiative.