Wild animals reclaim lost domain at Margalla Hills amid lockdown

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By Minahil Makhdoom

ISLAMABAD: Soon after the spike of COVID-19 cases in Pakistan in March, the federal government of Pakistan threw a lockdown in the capital Islamabad. Excursion places including the capital’s zoo, parks and hiking trails in the scenic Margalla hills were also closed for visitors and fitness enthusiasts.
After humans deserted the trails in the Margallas, the native habitants of the wilderness returned to their natural abodes after observing no movement at the otherwise crowded trails which used to be beaming with noise and hustle and bustle of residents of the capital city.

“Trails snaking through the Margallas for visitors had suffocated the wildlife in the Margallas, but a visible pattern in the habits of animals have been witnessed during the last two weeks, following the lockdown period. The animals used to stay hidden in their abodes due to human movement at the trails, but now we have seen them walking freely in the hills and coming out of their dens during day time,” Chairperson of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board, Anis-ur-Rahman told The Dail Mail.
Located in the foothills of the Himalayan range, the Margalla hills were declared as a national park in 1980. Covering an area of 17,386 hectares, the park has around 350 bird varieties, 40 mammals and 13 species of reptiles, Rahman said. According to the WWF Pakistan, the most prominent wild animals in the hills including in Islamabad area are leopard, red fox, barking deer, monkey, jackal, Indian gazelle, pangolin, porcupine, yellow-throated marten, leopard cat and wild boar among others, while prominent bird varieties include vulture, hawk, falcon, dove, pheasant, nightingale, partridge, golden oriole, lark, shrike and wheatear.
Rahman said that most of the mammals and birds are rarely visible in the hills in Islamabad due to excessive human movement on trails and roads passing through the hills, but the lockdown period gave the animals “freedom to move around.” “Earlier, we found traces of leopards in the hills, but we rarely saw them moving around the hills during the day. However, during the lockdown period we saw three families of leopards moving around the hills on cameras, and we even caught a glimpse of one of them roaming around the hills during the afternoon time, which is a very rare sight.”

He said that the leopards have been living in the hills silently and without harming any human in Islamabad since years. “They feed on wild boars and barking deer, both excessively available in the hills, so the big cats are not a threat to anyone.” He said that the leopards are healthy due to availability of food, clean habitat and suitable weather condition in the Margallas, and his department is taking measures to preserve the family of the rare animal by banning its hunting. Not only animals, the birds have also returned to the area and the residents of the adjoining areas of the hills enjoy the melodies of rare birds in the mornings and evenings.
Sajjad Shah, a resident of Islamabad’s F-7 sector which lies close to the hills, told The Daily Mail that before the lockdown period they often saw monkeys moving along the roads, but after the lockdown period, they have been seeing and hearing sweet melodies of the birds singing in the hills and also hopping in the trees of their houses. “Many times during the last two weeks, I woke up to the enchanting songs of beautiful birds singing in my window. It is a rare sight to behold, but it is one of the positive things which the lockdown is bringing to us, besides keeping us safe from the disease.”
Many varieties of birds rarely appear during the broad daylight in the hills due to crowds at the hills and traffic noise, but now birds have returned to the hills. Since years humans have been disrespecting the life and privacy of the wild animals by poaching and hunting them across the world, and the Margallas being no strange to the same practice was a victim of illegal hunting of birds and animals, but the government has succeeded in controlling it to a great extent, Rahman said, adding that the lockdown has not only stopped the frequent movement on the hills, but also gave the animals a sense of security and freedom.
“We are considering keeping on providing the same freedom to the wildlife after the lockdown, and for that purpose we are planning to allow a limited number of people to visit the park everyday so that the animals should also breathe in peace,” he added.