The Markhor is one of the largest and most magnificent members of the Caprinae or goat family, and it is the official “National Animal of Pakistan.” It has perhaps the most impressive horns of the family, with huge, spiraled, twisting horns that are either straight or flaring in outline depending on the subspecies.
Unfortunately the markhor has been under threat of extinction across its range. Markhor are critical to the landscape, both as one of few wild prey items in their range for large carnivores such as the wolf and snow leopard, and as a cultural icon both locally and nationally. Unfortunately, the population of Markhors have dropped by half within a 30-year period.
The Wildlife Conservation Society decided it is time to save these precious animals. They have set-up a program in collaboration with Indigenous people and local communities to prevent the Markhor from extinction. The WCS Pakistan Program now reaches 65 communities, influencing over 400,000 villagers, and covers an estimated 80% of markhor range in Gilgit-Baltistan. WCS is the only international conservation NGO operating full-time in many of these valleys.
WCS is now instituting a new management structure in their program area – the “community-managed conservancy” focused on Markhor as a flagship species. Already, 18 such community-managed conservancies are in operation. The idea behind community-managed conservancies focusing on Markhor is that political boundaries and biological boundaries rarely coincide. In this program’s area, steep-sided mountains delineate valley watersheds that also function as local political boundaries between communities. However, Markhor are skilled mountain climbers, and do not define their home range by watershed – in fact, they almost always use a minimum of two watersheds (which for a Markhor simply constitute both sides of a mountain). Thus even if a Markhor herd is protected by one community, the herd can still be under significant threat from a neighboring community.
Community-managed conservancies link different village or valley organisations together for coordinated Markhor monitoring and protection. Conservancies are developed through a series of consultations between WCS and key stakeholders (Wildlife and Forest Department, MCDP, communities, religious leaders, media, outfitters, and other NGOs). To formally establish conservancies, WCS develops agreements that are signed between the Forest and Wildlife Department Gilgit-Baltistan, the Chairman of the District Conservation Committees Diamer, Gilgit, Astore, Hunza-Nagar, WCS, the MCDP, and each village/valley resource organization. WCS then works with each conservancy to help them develop coordinated management plans to monitor and protect markhor. Twelve conservancies already have management plans approved by the government.
To learn more, you can visit the WCS’ site directly via: https://www.wcs.org/