Browsed by
Tag: mushshak

Rescue and Release of Falcons by Falcon Foundation International Pakistan

Rescue and Release of Falcons by Falcon Foundation International Pakistan

Article by: Lt Col (Retd) Ernest Shams

Photographs: Azmatullah and Muhammad Arshad

A falcon in flight
A falcon in flight

Millions of migratory birds visit Pakistan for the wintering season every year, adding mesmerizing colours and activity to the natural beauty of our country. Among them are falcons, some of the most magnificent and scariest birds on the planet. Unfortunately, they face the brunt of trapping from their habitats and smuggling to the Gulf and Middle-eastern countries where falconry is part of the Arab culture, and therefore, falcons are prized possessions of the Arabs. The passion for falcons and falconry is centuries old.

Despite a ban on trapping, the nefarious business continues playing hide-n-seek with law enforcement authorities which remain on the watch. Often, trappers are nabbed and arrested while transporting the species from one place to the other. Falcon Foundation International Pakistan helps in care and treatment of the rescued birds and also their scientific release back to nature. So far, the Foundation has been in the forefront in rescue and release of hundreds of falcons.

During judicial proceedings against the apprehended trappers and smugglers, the falcons are detained in Lahore Zoo where Falcon Foundation’s skilled officers and veterinarians provide expert care around-the-clock. Along with provision of veterinary medicines and materials excellent quality medicines are also imported from abroad to ensure that the birds receive the best care and treatment during captivity.

A rescued falcon under care of Falcon Foundation in Lahore Zoo
A rescued falcon under care of Falcon Foundation in Lahore Zoo

 

Medicines imported from Falcon Hospital Abu Dhabi
Medicines imported from Falcon Hospital Abu Dhabi

An everyday scale of quails are also obtained from Avian Research & Training Center against a certificate of “Disease Free Quails” and fed to the falcons.

Veterinarians of Lahore Zoo join Falcon Foundation to form a composite team of care-takers. This becomes an opportunity for them to learn from the Foundation’s experts how to take care of these powerful hunting birds.

Falcon Foundation’s composite team of veterinarians and bird-keepers
Falcon Foundation’s composite team of veterinarians and bird-keepers

Immediately the Foundation implants micro-chips in the breast region of each falcon, as a means of positive identification. It is a simple and safe procedure, done by a veterinarian, which requires no anesthesia. The micro-chip does not move in the body and cannot be lost or altered or removed. It lasts for decades and remains harmless to the animal. The Foundation recommends that every airport and country exit should possess micro-chips and a micro-chip scanner to guard against replacement of incoming spurious species with precious outgoing birds.

Falcon Foundation’s veterinarian implants micro-chips for identification of the birds
Falcon Foundation’s veterinarian implants micro-chips
for identification of the birds

Rings are an additional means of identification which are tagged to the birds and allocate a unique identification number to each bird. Veterinary history sheets of each individual bird and daily attendance records are maintained with the help of these identification instruments.

Jesses and hoods keep the birds undisturbed in location. These are particularly useful to the veterinarians and bird handlers during clinical investigations, veterinary practices, feeding by mouth and training of Veterinary Officers of Lahore Zoo.

When these ‘birds of the wild’ are released back to nature, Punjab Wildlife Department and Falcon Foundation International Pakistan invite concerned conservationists and citizens alike to identify themselves with these beautiful birds, and share their joy of freedom.

Minister of Agriculture and Wildlife, Mr Malik Ahmed Ali Aulakh, releases falcons in Kallar Kahar Salt Range
Minister of Agriculture and Wildlife, Mr Malik Ahmed Ali Aulakh, releases falcons in Kallar Kahar Salt Range

 

Secretary Forests Wildlife & Fisheries, Major (Retd) Shahnawaz Badar, releases falcons in Kallar Kahar Salt Range
Secretary Forests Wildlife & Fisheries, Major (Retd) Shahnawaz Badar, releases falcons in Kallar Kahar Salt Range
Director General Punjab Wildlife & Parks Department, Mr Nayyar Iqbal, releases falcons at Ravi Siphon, Lahore
Director General Punjab Wildlife & Parks Department, Mr Nayyar Iqbal, releases falcons at Ravi Siphon, Lahore
Annual Aerial Seed Broadcast by Partners in Conservation

Annual Aerial Seed Broadcast by Partners in Conservation

Pakistan Army and Houbara Foundation International Pakistan

Pakistan Army and Houbara Foundation International Pakistan

Introduction

For those who have never seen a desert, the desert terrains are most likely to be associated with sand dunes, cactuses and camels. One would expect little rain and meagre vegetation. But there is much more to it than just that.

Cholistan Desert has its high and low sand dunes, and also supports several varieties of plant species which provide food and refuge to animals, birds and insects. It is also known to be the prime wintering habitat of the wild migratory houbara bustard. Indeed, Cholistan Desert is a Living Desert, and the houbara is its flag-ship species which indicates the health of the desert.

Houbara bustard – the winter visitor to Pakistan
Houbara bustard – the winter visitor to Pakistan

This habitat was in decline like all other habitats the world over due to overgrazing by domestic animals and wood-cutting for a variety of purposes. The main wealth of the nomadic communities living in the Cholistan are their cattle which are bred for sale, milked or shorn for wool. Thus, the backbone of Cholistan economy is cattle breeding and resultantly, overgrazing.

Domestic animals of local communities in the Cholistan Desert
Domestic animals of local communities in the Cholistan Desert

Keeping Alive a Living Desert

Almost two decades ago populations of the Houbara Bustard, the flag-ship species of the desert biome, were found to be in serious decline. The reasons: destruction of the habitats, due to overgrazing, wood-cutting, agricultural expansion and other human activities, coupled with indiscriminate hunting and illegal trapping.

Cholistan Desert was hardest hit because of its human communities and their livestock. The total livestock population in Cholistan has been estimated at 1,295,462 heads (Livestock Census of Pakistan, 2006, U. Farooq, H. A. Samad, F. Sher, M. Asim and M. Arif Khan, Pakistan Veterinary Journal). Therefore, before the desert was laid bare altogether, it was important to go beyond protection and preservation, and re-inforce the vegetation. Houbara Foundation International Pakistan requested the Pakistan Army to join hands in this noble cause and restore the habitat through aerial broadcast of seeds.

That’s the only way! Where dispersal by traditional means would be un-economical or impossible, large volumes of seeds can be dispersed only by aircraft and helicopters. Of course, success of aerial seeding also hinges on critical factors such as suitable seeds, distribution of the seeds during the right season and releasing them at the right moment and in the right location.

Partners in Conservation

In 1998 Houbara Foundation International Pakistan entered into partnership with Pakistan Army to carry out habitat restoration jointly. Since then, the Army has been providing a Mushshak aircraft to the Foundation on “Gratis” basis every year and also fabricated a Seed Broadcast Mechanism which is installed in the aircraft to ensure safe and secure flight during broadcast of the seeds over selected areas of the Cholistan Desert.

Seed-Broadcast-Mechanism

Monsoon rains from June-September are important for germination of seeds and growth of vegetation.

Accordingly, the Foundation coordinates the project with the Army to broadcast the seeds at a suitable time, and a representative of the Foundation accompanies the pilot every year to identify the target areas and broadcast the seeds according to the terrain.

19th Annual Aerial Seed Broadcast

On Thursday morning 4th August 2016 two aircraft piloted by Major Muhammad Naveed Ahmed and Captain Muhammad Javed landed at Sheikh Zayed International Airport Rahim Yar Khan.

Both pilots were briefed about : –

  1. Causes leading to the Habitat Restoration project.
  2. Houbara Foundation’s work of conservation.
  3. Types of seeds used in the broadcast.

Briefing

The seeds consisted of: –

Serial Types of Seeds Local Names Quantities
1. Fagonia cretica linn zygophyllaceae Dharman 28 kg
2. Dipterygium glaucum Phel 35 kg
3. Farestia jacquemontii Lathia 12 kg
4. Mallah Berry  ملاح بیری 15 kg
Total 90 kg

 

The Mission

After the briefing, flight plans were prepared for two sorties. The seeds were loaded in the Seed Broadcast Mechanism and a ground trial was carried out before take-off.

The aircraft took off at 0945 hours and headed eastwards to the desert. The duration of the first sortie over target area was one hour and thirty minutes. After the first sortie, the aircraft returned to Sheikh Zayed International Airport to load the remaining seeds. The second sortie took off at 1155 hours and returned to the airport after one hour and twenty-five minutes.

At the end of the task, the aircraft were refueled, and the pilots returned to their unit.

Ground Survey

After the aircraft went back to their base station, a ground survey of the desert was carried out with following objectives: –

  1. To observe the condition of the terrain.
  2. To assess the condition of the existing vegetation.

There was heavy rain over a vast area of the desert and rain-water was seen extensively. A number of water holes were observed where sufficient water was available for the local communities and their livestock. The desert vegetation was also green as far as eye could see, and therefore promising for germination of the seeds broadcast this year.

Conclusion

The Cholistan Desert is a rain-less tract, but, tranquil, pollution-free and a quiet area. This unique desert habitat is shared by the Chinkara gazelle, wild cat, jackal, wolf, mongoose, squirrel, field rat, more than 140 species of birds, over 200 types of insects and as many as sixty varieties of snakes. Therefore, restoration of this unique habitat is of great importance.

Pakistan Army has continuously supported Houbara Foundation International Pakistan in this national cause, as “Partners in Conservation” for the last nineteen years, and together, the Army and the Foundation have broadcasted 2,100 kg seeds so far.

Ground monitoring of the target areas have consistently shown good results. The restored conditions are beginning to successfully support wildlife of the desert. However, habitat restoration remains a long and laborious task, and has not yet come to an end. The project demands patience and commitment and will continue until ideal conditions are met.

We hope that Pakistan Army will continue to play its vital role in habitat restoration and conservation of flora and fauna of the wild, in partnership with Houbara Foundation International Pakistan.

Cholistan – the living desert
Cholistan – the living desert

 

[sgmb id=1]