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Wildlife connects India, Pakistan

Sunny Sebastian

JAIPUR: Next in line after cricket perhaps is wildlife which holds big promise to bring India and Pakistan together. The fact that both nations share common concerns over conservation, and problems in wildlife management too are similar, makes them potential fellow-travellers in nature conservation.

A first step on this journey was taken when a seven-member team from Pakistan underwent training in conservation and management at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehra Dun this month. Five of them belong to WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), Pakistan, while two others are from that country's Forest Service. The team was in Jaipur the other day after a two-day visit to Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan.

“Wildlife has no boundaries,” WWF Pakistan's Ahmad Said told The Hindu. “There are many commonalities in conservation in both countries. We should have regular exchange programmes.”

“The package made by WII for the visiting Pakistani conservationists was a mix of classroom studies and field visits. This kind of sharing of experience from both sides of the border will help conservation and wildlife protection on the subcontinent,” said WII scientist Govind Bhardwaj who accompanied the seven-member team to Rajasthan.

Mr. Bhardwaj, who was Ranthambore National Park's field director for three years in the past, said: “Ranthambore proved quite an experience for the Pakistan team.”

Mr. Bhardwaj, author of Tracking Tigers in Ranthambore, said the structure of wildlife management is the same for both countries. We also find that both countries share similar problems, be it deforestation, poaching or grazing in the sanctuaries.”

The Pakistani conservationists visited Jaipur Zoo and the animal rescue shelter at Nahargarh Sanctuary and interacted with State forest officials. After classroom lectures at WII, they were also taken to the Rajaji and Jim Corbett national parks. “Some national parks here are very well managed. We find Ranthambore and Jim Corbett in very good condition, while the Rajaji National Park seemingly has some management problems like a road cutting across the elephant habitat there. We feel the forests are well maintained here. We would like to pick up clues from India on eco-tourism management.”

Pakistan has 27 National Parks — the country has a four per cent forest cover compared to the seven to ten per cent India officially claims — and a variety of fauna, but cannot boast of big time species like elephant, tiger and rhino.

“We have no tigers in Pakistan. We were lucky to sight them thrice in Ranthambore in two days. However, we have our prize species like snow leopards, black bear, brown bear and many types of antelopes.” Mr. Said is optimistic about continuing cooperation with India. “This is just a beginning. We will have more such exchanges in future,” he said hinting at the likelihood of an Indian delegation visiting Pakistan's nature conservation sites soon.

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