I have hunted in Pakistan three times in the last five years. As I prepared for my most recent Pakistan shikar, a lot of folks looked at me like I had three heads: “You’re going where?”
Pakistan offers a mix of forest, plains and mountain species. There are four varieties of urial sheep: Afghan, Blanford, and Punjab urial are currently hunted; the Ladakh urial is not. In the north, Himalayan blue sheep are hunted; the argalis are scarce and probably won’t be. There are two ibex–the big-bodied, heavy-horned Himalayan ibex in the big northern mountains; and in the arid hills of the southwest, the small-bodied Sind ibex with its impossibly long horns. Although pricey and with very few permits, three varieties of markhor are huntable–Astor, Kashmir, and Suleiman.
That’s just the mountain game. There are two gazelles, Indian and Kennion, plus native range, free-range blackbuck. There are hog deer, pockets of Indian muntjac, and axis deer and nilgai have been reintroduced in free-range situations. The Indian wild boar, considered slightly larger and classified differently from his Eurasian cousin, is widespread (though difficult to hunt). Small predators include golden jackal, Asian jungle cat and fox. Large predators, currently protected, include Asian leopard, snow leopard and hyena.
Bird hunting is actually spectacular. Although Pakistan has a small but significant culture of big game hunting, bird hunting is the more popular pastime among Pakistani hunters. There are several varieties of partridge; a small but speedy quail; and, along the marshes and rivers and in the potholes, lots of snipe and a surprising plentitude of waterfowl.
Is it safe? Well is anything really safe? Pakistan is not a country where one might wish to go hiking and camping unescorted in tribal country along the Afghan border. On the other hand, in the context of an outfitted hunt with a reputable operator, I have been to the top and bottom and east to west. I have never felt in the least threatened in any way.
Is the hunting any good? Yes, it is very good and, supported primarily by the fees from international hunters, it is getting better all the time! Historically, meat poaching was part of the culture…partly for the sport and only partly as a necessity, with every village having a couple of self-designated hunters. Since Pakistan became a nation, the human population has expanded dramatically. With very limited control and enforcement by both national and provincial wildlife departments many, perhaps most, wildlife populations were dwindling rapidly.
In the past couple of decades, however, the recovery has been dramatic. The secret has been the Community Based Organization (CBO), public-private cooperatives between the local community (sometimes tribal) leadership, government, non-government conservation organizations and outfitters (both local and international). These have not only placed value on wildlife through local employment and hunting fees but, more importantly, have established very restrictive quotas and have funneled a large percentage of license and trophy fees—as much as 80 percent—directly back to the local communities. These funds have dug wells, built dams, and built schools and clinics. With tangible results at the local level, the people have genuinely gotten on board with the program! Many of the most skilled local poachers are still hunting, but now as guides and game guards!
The benefit to Pakistan’s wildlife has been dramatic. Perhaps the most famous situation is in the isolated Torghar Hills of western Pakistan on the Afghan border. When this community-based organization was started, the Suleiman markhor and Afghan urial population had dwindled to a remnant of just a few hundred animals. Just 30 years later, there are four thousand markhor and a couple thousand urial sheep.
The success is such that the process is continuing. Punjab, north and east of Islamabad, is Pakistan’s most populous province by far. Although the Punjab urial occupies a large territory throughout the Salt Range, the population was clearly declining. New CBOs have sprung into the breach, with benefits clear in just a few years. In February, I hunted the West Jhelum CBO not far from the provincial capital of Lahore. This CBO is operated under the direction of Suleyman Warraich, himself mostly a bird hunter, but like all Pakistani hunters I have encountered, a keen and knowledgeable sportsman. Although only five years in the creation and with a small handful of urial permits for just three years, Suleyman showed us the dams and wells already created by hunters’ funds, and of course we met the game guards and guides–serious hunters now hunting in different ways. He also showed us plenty of Punjab urial sheep, calmly feeding on steep hillsides above herdsmen tending their flocks.
After we secured a very fine urial we drove south and west to another CBO, this one managed primarily for partridges and the Indian gazelle, or chinkara. This was a long-standing hunting area based initially on a large private estate, thus protected for a long time. The gazelles are a common “add-on” to many Asian hunts. I’ve hunted gazelles elsewhere in Pakistan, and elsewhere in Asia…but I’ve never seen gazelles in such profusion anywhere in Asia.
For the hunter, Pakistan is truly the pearl of Asia…and thanks to genuine and effective hunter-funded wildlife management, it’s just getting better.–Craig Boddington