By Shabbir Mir
GILGIT: As a snow leopard went on a rampage in Gojal valley killing dozens of livestock and terrorising the residents, the locals gathered to lay down an elaborate trap to snare the wildcat.
The cat was finally caught four days ago after hectic efforts before being safely released into the Khunjerab National Park on Friday.
Residents of Misgar in the Gojal valley had been on edge for weeks. They had lost around 45 goats, sheep, cows and yaks to a lone, rampaging female snow leopard in the area in January and February.
The sight of its paw prints around the sight of its fresh kill was becoming common with a worrisome frequency.
Unfortunately for the locals, with the cat enjoying a protected status, killing it was not really an option.
“It was at least a two-week-long exercise to capture the cat,” said Karamatullah, a local conservation committee member in the Gojal valley.
Taking it upon themselves to trap the cat and end the threat which had terrorised their communities for weeks, the locals chose a clearing where they could trap the cat safely.
“We prepared a trap and placed two goats inside to lure the cat,” Karamatullah told the media on Saturday, narrating the story about how they were able to finally trap the cat safely earlier this week.
“Its [snow leopard’s] safety was our priority because it is an endangered species,” he said, before adding, “But it is also true that it inflicted a huge loss on us.”
The locals had to depute two men to track the beast, watching it take the bait. The men, who operated in shifts on pre-set number of hours, had to keep an eye on the leopard all the while remaining hidden from the predator for the nearly two weeks before successfully trapping it.
“We pulled the string as it entered the trap to attack the goats,” Karamatullah said, adding that the leopard was caught on February 21.
“We captured the snow leopard, but lost our two goats in the process.”
After trapping the leopard, the community was undecided about what to do about it.
Locals told The Express Tribune that the community did not immediately inform the government about the capture.
“We couldn’t kill it of course, because it was a precious animal, but we could strike a bargain with the government to compensate the loss it had caused us from time to time,” said the insider.
However, the wildlife authorities in the region managed to get wind of the capture and a team from the department soon reached Misgar.
The locals initially refused to let the leopard go, fearing that it would return to prey on their livestock.
The negotiations dragged on between the locals and a joint team comprising Wildlife Conservator Ghulam Muhammad, Wildlife divisional forest officer and representatives from Wildlife Conservation Society-Pakistan.
The locals demanded that the government compensate them, besides appointing game watchers from their area. They also called for increasing the quota for hunting the Himalayan Ibex in their area.
On the second day of parleys, the authorities agreed to appoint one or two people from the area as game watchers, though the move would be ‘subject to availability of funds’.
Similarly, they agreed to increase the quota of Ibex for the next trophy hunting season. “But the communities wanted more than that, so they remained adamant,” a wildlife official said.
With the talks deadlocked, the wildlife officials lodged a complaint with the local police station over the wildcat.
A police team soon reached the spot and secured custody of the animal from locals and handed it over to wildlife officials.
After watching the police team, the communities recanted and agreed to terms which had been previously offered by the wildlife officials.
On Friday, wildlife officials released the snow leopard into the wild of Khunjerab National Park, miles away from the Misgar area, to ensure that it does not return to haunt the people and livestock.
According to a study by WWF-Pakistan, due to global warming natural habitats for these majestic creatures are fast diminishing leading them towards extinction.
It is estimated that presently the remaining small and fragmented population of snow leopards in Pakistan is between 200-400.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2017.