ISLAMABAD-Ministry of Climate Change recognizes the unprecedented threats to the country’s biodiversity and efforts are being taken to address them as a part of the present government’s efforts for reinvigorating the ailing biodiversity sector and ecosystem restoration under the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme.

“An ambitious initiative has already been launched to develop first ever National Red Data Book on Mammals of Pakistan, which will provide overview of the status of various mammal species present in the country based on population estimates,” said press release issued here on Sunday.

Muhammad Saleem, media spokesperson of the climate change ministry said that Pakistan was rich in biodiversity, particularly in the arid and semi-arid regions which covered almost 80% of the total land area.

 A number of animal and plant species were threatened or endangered largely due to over-exploitation and loss of natural habitat, he added.

The official said that based on field surveys, which had already been launched across the country, for the first ever Pakistan-specific Red Data Book, which was being created to identify and protect endangered and rare species of plants, animals, fungi as well as some local subspecies. 

It would also identify myriad risks various wildlife species face in the country and provides complete information of rare and endangered species and about their habitats, the official added.

He said that Six teams had been formed, comprising 6-8 persons in each band, which were conducting the surveys.

The teams consist of wildlife experts from various organisations including the climate change ministry, zoological survey of Pakistan, Punjab wildlife & Parks department, community based organizations, NGO’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature, World Wide Fund for Nature Pakistan, Snow Leopard Foundation, Sustainable Forest Management), and university students.

He stressed that “in fact the Red Data Book would significantly help the policymakers, wildlife policymakers, conservators, researchers and experts in providing complete information for research, studies and also for monitoring the programmes on rare and endangered species and their habitats in the country”.

The climate change media spokesperson said, “Pakistan is going to make a comprehensive National Red Data Book of mammals for the first time, which will provide population status of species at national level. It will assist in rolling out monitoring and conservation strategies for threatened wildlife species at regional levels.”

The current ongoing wildlife surveys aim to assess population of Punjab Urial in Punjab and develop National Red Data Book of Pakistan, he explained.

The 15-day surveys would continue till October 25, 2020, which is rutting season of this wildlife species, in the five districts of Punjab; Jhelum, Chakwal, Attock Mianwali and Khushab.

While giving overview of wildlife species to be covered in the country’s first Red Data Book, he highlighted that Punjab Urial (Ovis vignei punjabensis) has been ranked as endemic in the country found in scrub forest in Kala Chitta and Salt Ranges of the Punjab.

It is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ by IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and is also listed in Appendix-II of the list of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a multilateral treaty among countries to protect endangered plants and animals.

The climate change media spokesperson also highlighted various challenges to survival of the Punjab Uria, saying habitat fragmentation, degradation and loss caused due to livestock grazing, construction of roads, dams, encroachment of wild area due to cultivation and other developmental activities, Illegal hunting for meat, trophies and poaching of lambs are among the key threats to the Punjab Urial and foremost causes of decline in its population.

He pointed out that there is a presently little baseline data available, which hardly provides any understanding about current status of the Punjab Urial species and which is a main bottleneck to its conservation and protection.