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Abundance, Distribution and Conservation of Key Ungulate Species in Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Western Himalayan (HKH) Mountain Ranges of Pakistan

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The Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountain areas of Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan) are known to have significant populations of globally important wildlife species, ungulates being prominent of these, which have never been studied systematically before. This study was conducted to investigate current population, distribution, conservation and habitat condition of the six major ungulate species i.e., Himalayan ibex (Capra ibex sibirica), Blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), Astore markhor (Capra falconeri falconeri), Ladakh urial (Ovis vignei), Marco polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii) and Himalayan musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster) in Gilgit-Baltistan. Bi-annual census surveys using direct and indirect counting methods were held in 86 potential habitats (sub catchments) during 2005 to 2010 and questionnaire based interviews were held with local hunters and herders. Results revealed that C. ibex is the most common species, followed by P. nayaur and C. f. falconeri whereas Marco Polo sheep was limited to KNP, Blue sheep to Shimshal and Soqtarabad; Ladakh urial to lower reaches of Karakoram and western Himalayas. Musk deer is confined to rhododendron dominated birch forests of western Himalayas. The study also showed that population of trophy animals i.e., Blue sheep, H. ibex and A. markhor has increased considerably whereas that of non-trophy animals i.e., Ladakh urial and musk deer have fallen down to the verge of local extinction. The increases are attributed to overwhelming success of community base conservation program, initiated by WWF, AKRSP and GB Forest & Wildlife department in 1993 while failure to save non-trophy animals is possibly due to their low economic return and lack of community interest. Efforts to maintain balance between conservation needs of the wild resource and development needs of the dependent communities is required for sustainable management of the fragile mountain ecosystem in the region.
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... Due to tremendous growth of the human population and the opening of inaccessible areas by the construction of roads, much of the animal's habitat has been lost. Now only scattered and isolated populations of small herds are found within the remotest corners of their former habitats (Zafar et al. 2014). ...
... Hence, we have used fixed point direct counting method for Astor markhor (Haider et al. 2021) and double observer method for Ladakh urial (Ghoshal 2018). (Zafar et al. 2014) estimated the population of 1071 animals in potential habitat of markhor in 2014. A total of 1087 animals estimated by (Haider et al. ...
... Currently, it is living in small herds in different watersheds and Bunji is a stronghold of its population while the remaining valleys have very little population (Siraj-ud-Din et al. 2016). In the present study, the estimated population of Ladakh urial was 158 in 11 herds individuals that is little higher than the population estimated by (Zafar et al. 2014) in 2014. Except Bunji, very small herds were recorded in all other valleys of GB. ...
... Astor Markhor is confined to small and scattered populations of ca. 22-100 individuals distributed along Indus River and its tributaries in Gilgit-Baltistan (Khan et al., 2014). ...
... Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is located in extreme north of Pakistan ( Fig. 1) between 35° and 37°N and 72-75°E at the confluence of the great Himalaya, Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges, characterized by rugged and precipitous mountains, high peaks, deep narrow valleys and gorges (Ahmed and Joyia, 2003;Khan et al., 2014). ...
... Reconnaissance surveys were conducted to identify the potential habitat in terms of occurrence of the species in five out of the ten districts, covering 16 valleys/major catchments, 25 sub-catchments that fall within 15 Community-Controlled Hunting Areas (CCHAs) (Fig. 1). For this purpose, fixed-point direct count method using specific vantage point was employed for population estimation (Jackson and Hunter, 1996;Khan et al., 2014). Survey team at each site was comprised of trained staff of the GB Wildlife & Parks Department, Village Wildlife Watchers and one of the authors. ...
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Gilgit-Baltistan (Northern Pakistan) has a rich diversity of wild caprinae and is one of key area for caprinae community-based conservation programs. In this program, selective hunting of small proportion of adult males with large horns is done on annual basis to generate money for the conservation, habitat improvement and livelihood of local communities. The current study aimed at collecting reliable data about population status of Astor markhor (Capra falconeri falconeri). For this purpose, fixed-point direct count method was used for estimation of Astor markhor population in 16 catchments including 15 Community-controlled Hunting Areas (CCHAs). A total of 1087 animals were counted, comprising of 266 (24%) males (including sixty-two (6%) trophy-sized males), 388 (36%) females, 227 (21%) yearling and 206 (19%) kids. Population density of Astor markhor was estimated 0.13 individuals/km², with male to female ratio 0.69:1, yearling to female 0.54:1 and kids to female 0.51:1. CCHA/catchment wise assessments showed that Kargah area have highest population (211 animals). It is suggested that consequences of trophy hunting should be strictly contingent upon population data obtained through robust methods, duly verified by a panel of conservation experts and may be extended to other areas also for fruitful results.
... The world's largest population of Markhor is present in Pakistan [4,8]. Markhor is mostly found in arid mountain ranges, above the tree line of higher rainy cold regions in Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindukush [8,9]. Markhor is a social animal and prefers to live a gregarious life in herds. ...
... From the previous literature and the current study, it's obvious that the population of Markhor mostly distributed in the northern areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan. Markhor is mostly found in arid mountain ranges, above the tree line of higher rainy cold regions in Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindukush [8,9]. In the valley the Markhor mostly observed and recorded in open area between trees and above tree line and preferred mostly arid and steeps zones of mountain. ...
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Markhor Capra falconeri, the national animal of Pakistan, is globally recognized as endangered. The current study was conducted to find the population size, structure and the contribution of trophy hunting in conservation and development of Kashmir Markhor (Capra falconeri cashmiriensis) in Kiagah valley Kohistan. Point count method was used to collect data during February 2016 and 2018. The population recorded was 213 and 291 individuals in 2016 and 2018 respectively. Out of 213 individuals, 12 were adult male, 57 were female, while Young males (between age of 3 to 7 years) were 28, Yearlings (both male and female between 1 to 3 year) were 59, Kids (less than 1 year) were 33 and 40 were unknown (Markhor could not be classified by age and sex). The total density/Km 2 area in 2016 was 4.438 individuals/km 2 and average sex and age wise ratios; male to female ratio (M*: F**) was 1:4.75 and kids to female (K*****: F**) ratio was 1:1.727. While out of 291 individuals, 19 were adult male, 95 were female, while Yong males (between age of 3 to 7 years) were 51, Yearlings (both male and female between 1 to 3 year) were 64, kids (less than 1 year) were 50 and 12 were unknown (Markhor could not be classified by age and sex) individuals. The total density/Km 2 area in 2018 was 6.063 individuals/km 2 and Average sex and age wise ratios; male to female ratio
... Both model species are present in most of the predicted habitats, or they occupied those areas historically [30,33]. Ironically, Khan et al., (2014) reported sighting records of ibex in Tangir Valley of Diamer district, which is beyond the suitable habitat predicted in the current study, as well as outside of the former IUCN range [73]. This probably indicates southwards expansion of ibex in recent years. ...
... This probably indicates southwards expansion of ibex in recent years. Our model predicted suitable habitat for blue sheep on the Braldu glacier where sheep do not currently exist [74]. Interestingly, older records indicate the presence of blue sheep in this area, e.g., [29] quote a sighting by T. J. Roberts in this area in 1975. ...
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Climate change is expected to impact a large number of organisms in many ecosystems, including several threatened mammals. A better understanding of climate impacts on species can make conservation efforts more effective. The Himalayan ibex ( Capra ibex sibirica ) and blue sheep ( Pseudois nayaur ) are economically important wild ungulates in northern Pakistan because they are sought-after hunting trophies. However, both species are threatened due to several human-induced factors, and these factors are expected to aggravate under changing climate in the High Himalayas. In this study, we investigated populations of ibex and blue sheep in the Pamir-Karakoram mountains in order to (i) update and validate their geographical distributions through empirical data; (ii) understand range shifts under climate change scenarios; and (iii) predict future habitats to aid long-term conservation planning. Presence records of target species were collected through camera trapping and sightings in the field. We constructed Maximum Entropy (MaxEnt) model on presence record and six key climatic variables to predict the current and future distributions of ibex and blue sheep. Two representative concentration pathways (4.5 and 8.5) and two-time projections (2050 and 2070) were used for future range predictions. Our results indicated that ca. 37% and 9% of the total study area (Gilgit-Baltistan) was suitable under current climatic conditions for Himalayan ibex and blue sheep, respectively. Annual mean precipitation was a key determinant of suitable habitat for both ungulate species. Under changing climate scenarios, both species will lose a significant part of their habitats, particularly in the Himalayan and Hindu Kush ranges. The Pamir-Karakoram ranges will serve as climate refugia for both species. This area shall remain focus of future conservation efforts to protect Pakistan’s mountain ungulates.
... In KNP, we recorded a density of 0.64 animals/km 2 . This was in contrast to Ahmad et al. (2020) who recorded 0.40 animals/km 2 and Khan et al. (2014) who reported 0.04-0.71 animals/km 2 in some watersheds of KNP using a fixed-point count method. ...
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... No other study focused whole range of Himalayan ibex but part of the range/valleys, our results are akin to (Ahmad et al., 2020) for Gojal, for Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP) to (Zafar Khan et al., 2014) for Hushey Valley to (Raza et al., 2015). ...
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