GILGIT: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday announced two new high-altitude national parks in Gilgit-Baltistan under his Protected Areas Initiative, aimed at the protection and preservation of Pakistan’s natural assets.
PM Imran Khan was accompanied by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam.
According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s office, he said the “Park Service Nighabaans” would “be trained and employed to mange the parks in Gilgit-Baltistan as areas for biodiversity protection, safe habitats for wildlife preservation as well as for promotion of nature based eco-tourism”.
Alongside the Himalaya National Park and Nanga Parbat National Park, PM Imran Khan also announced the formation of “a globally unique ‘Nature Corridor'”, connecting Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Jammu and Kashmir via Gilgit-Baltistan and traversing a high altitude area (over 10,000 feet height).
The “Nature Corridor” is aimed at providing a protected and managed corridor for preserving the wildlife of the area — including the iconic snow leopard and Pakistan’s national animal, Markhor — both of which are present in this area, the statement added.
Aslam, the premier’s aide, termed the corridor “an initiative of high global significance”.
Initiative to save Ladakh urial
On the other hand, PM Imran Khan was briefed on an associated initiative to save the endangered Ladakh urial, for which a breeding enclosure to enhance the dwindling species’ numbers was to be established in its natural habitat of Skardu.
The statement mentioned that three female Ladakh urial were already present in the area, which was being fenced, and a male species translocated from Bunji in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The initiative, it added, would become the first experiment of its kind globally to save the Ladakh urial, which is endemic to only Pakistan and India and remains highly endangered.
The secretary for KP’s Forest and Wildlife Department, Shahid Zaman, told the premier that the Ladakh urial was facing global threat to its existence and in Pakistan only 150 animals exist in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Zaman explained that among the major causes behind the decline of the species were habitat degradation, poaching, diseases, and genetic isolation. As per the plan, two male species would be translocated from Bunji to Kharpocho in Skardu, he said.
With regard to the initiatives, PM Imran Khan underscored that his government would “have ‘zero tolerance’ towards timber mafia”.
Praising the Gilgit-Baltistan forest department’s work under the “10 Billion Tree Tsunami” project, the premier also approved the deployment of Frontier Constabulary (FC) platoons especially for the forest protection drive in the region.
Issuing directives for the conservation of the endangered species, he said the KP Forest and Wildlife Department would be bifurcated into two separate departments — the Gilgit-Baltistan Forest Department and the Gilgit-Baltistan Protected Areas and Wildlife Service Department
More than 500 job positions would be approved for Gilgit-Baltistan’s wildlife department and close to 300 for the region’s forest department.
Himalaya National Park, Nanga Parbat National Park
As per the statement, the Himalaya National Park and Nanga Parbat National Park span a huge area of 3,600 square kilometres, which totals 5% of Gilgit-Baltistan’s land area; the former being 1,989 sq km and the latter 1,196 sq km.
Zaman, the secretary, informed PM Imran Khan that the total area for hunting in the new high-altitude national parks was 474 sq km.
Both the national parks comprise “unique ecological areas with very rich high-altitude biodiversity as well as precious flora and fauna, which include snow leopards, Himalayan brown bear, Ladakh urial, Ibex, Markhors, and Blue Sheep”.
“The number of National Parks in the country numbered 30 in 2018, which were announced over 70 years and remained just paper parks,” the statement read.
“Now under this initiative, in just 8 months, the number of National Parks across all provinces is being taken to 45 — a 50% increase — and proper community based management regimes will be put in place in all of them.
“In this regards, the Prime Minister also approved the formation of Gilgit-Baltistan’s first ‘National Parks Service,’ which he said will provide 5,000 green jobs to the youth in the province,” it added