In some ways conservation of the Endangered Markhor (Capra falconeri) in northern Pakistan is complicated by geography according to SOS Grantee Mayoor Khan, Progamme Manager with WCS Pakistan. Tapping into the spirit of community that transcends the region’s physical and cultural borders is key.
In fact community-based conservation is the only way to protect Markhor across most of their range in Pakistan as they are primarily found in parts of the country where local people own and control their resources, including the wildlife, explains Mayoor.
The region is a critical catchment and source of water for hundreds of millions of disadvantaged people across Pakistan as a major part of the Indus River watershed. Protecting and sustainably managing natural resources in this province has important repercussions across the country and the region. But it is also an area of intense instability and conflict.
Fiercely independent communities live in a rugged, mountainous landscape, which means that many parts of Gilgit-Baltistan continue to function as essentially autonomous regions. In February 2012, sectarian violence killed a number of people across Gilgit-Baltistan followed by a government-mandated lock-down which stopped most work and travel anywhere in the region for weeks.
Despite issues with natural resource management, isolated communities and social unrest, the project’s longstanding and uniquely close relationships with the multiple sects and tribes across the region has led to the creation of a vibrant community based conservation programme across a broad swath of Gilgit-Baltistan. According to Mayoor, the diversity includes Sunni, Shi’ite, and Ismaeli sects, and within those sects including tribes such as Shin, Yashkun, Gujar, Kamin, Kohistani, Soniwall, Shinaki, Burushaski, Wakhi, Syed, Kashmiri, and Pathan.
The ability to build grassroots environmental governance institutions, and then link them with both the provincial and national government bodies, has been critical in building stronger ties between government and civil society explains Peter Zahler, WCS Asia Programme Deputy Director.
Natural resource conservation (unlike many other topics) is a politically and culturally shared value in northern Pakistan – forests, wildlife, water, and soils are what these rural people depend upon and consider part of their lives, livelihoods and cultures. The act of working together to find common solutions to a common threat results in the discovery of shared values, which unites groups and influences and increases social change that can encourage a culture of peace.
Through the programme’s focus on natural resource conservation, the project team has built critical links within and across communities that provide a safe forum to discuss common solutions that will promote mutual understanding and positive attitudes. This has helped create indigenous civil society organizations that are now sustainably managing their resources in a collaborative, negotiated manner. This work spans religious and tribal entities – and their differences – to enable and encourage communities to work together to find common solutions to these conflicts.
Understanding cultural relationships with respect to the natural environment sounds straightforward. This project illustrates such diversity presents considerable challenges at an operational level. Effective conservation work requires community involvement in such cases as well as time and expertise.
This is why SOS selected this project and why it is important to keep supporting SOS so that we can continue to find and select the best projects that offer sustainable prospects for species conservation.