Margalla Hills – a repository of endangered Asian Leopards

Margalla Hills – a repository of endangered Asian Leopards

By Ali Jabir

ISLAMABAD, Mar 20 (APP): Making the foothill of the Himalayan and sprawling over 17,000 hectare land, the biodiversity rich Margalla Hills National Park has become a thriving habitat for the diminishing Common Asian Leopards.

Once the biome’s migratory species that used to descend from Galiat and Ayubia National Park during heavy snowfall in winters and return to high altitudes in summers, the wildcats have been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Latest glance was captured in a camera trap of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board, once again ascertained the presence of this species at Margallas though it also had its imprints in the areas a few years back.
The guardians of the National Park had also initiated a study in recent past to ascertain the habits and presence of the Leopards in Margallas – a recreational abode for the capital residents.

Dwellers of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad as well as those coming from other parts of the country frequently visit Margalla Hills to enjoy their leisure time in serene environment as well as for hiking and photography.
“Margalla Hills is a unique example of a Leopard Preserve Zone near human settlement,” said Malik Amin Aslam, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change.

He said Margalla Hills has always been a source of attraction for visitors due to its rich habitat, unique biodiversity and comely atmosphere. “Besides flora and fauna, we also have wildlife in this national park including Common Asian Leopard.”
Amin Aslam said the federal government and wildlife department are vigilant of Leopard’s presence and continue efforts for its conservation.

“It is a success story of promising and dedicated conservation efforts that helped in preserving the critically endangered wildcat species,” he remarked.
The National Park is home to over 600 plant species, medicinal herbs, shrubs, around 350 bird species, 300 mammals and 20 different assort of reptiles especially snakes that make it undiscovered heaven of Potohar region’s biodiversity marvel.

Sunk into deep shrouds of foliage and green cover, the mesmerizing trails of Margallas narrate the tale of biodiversity conservation, hunting, poaching of wildlife and preservation of a natural heritage.

“Maintaining and protecting the Leopard Preserve Zone as an exclusive Leopard habitat lying at a close proximity of the capital city, was a herculean task,” said Chairperson Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) Rina Saeed Khan.
She said ecosystem restoration as advocated by the climate change experts was a challenging task and lock downs during Covid epidemics made us avert adverse impacts environmental degradation in Margallas.

“We fully utilized this period for conservation of Margallas and Trail-6 is now the Leopard Preserve Zone with restricted and guided mobility,” she said. “The temporary halt of human intervention also brought a boom in revival of other animal and plant species.”
Since decades, Margalla Hills is a repository to wild boars, monkeys, barking deer, foxes, jackals, porcupines, Kalij pheasants and numerous plant species. Now with arrival of Leopards, they are also being provided a living environment to embrace Trail-6 as their new abode.

According to IWMB, there were two families of leopards in the Margalla Hills National Park comprising seven members. A female and two male leopards are exclusively residing in the Leopard Preserve Zone given the names of Shehzada, Shehzadi and Sultan.
“Leopard is a shy animal that avoids human encounter in wild. It is nocturnal as it sleeps at day time and hunts or patrols in the dark,” Senior Board Member IWMB, Dr Z.B. Mirza.

He however advised the people venturing into Margalla Hills not to risk their lives by unnecessarily teasing these wildcats in the name of so-called adventurism and capturing their photos or camera views. “It is highly advisable to abstain from intruding into their area that may scare them resulting into deadly conflict”.

A study carried out by the Quaid-i-Azam University students in 2019 under the supervision of Dr Ali Nawaz had revealed Leopards presence in Margallas also claiming that their presence was not a threat rather it indicated a healthy ecosystem.
“Leopards have emerged as the top predator ruling the food chain of Margalla Hills National Park and their thriving number has helped in maintaining balance among various other species,” said Manager Operations IWMB Sakhawat Ali. “Like any head of a tribe or clan, Leopard is the boss or premier of Margalla Hills.”

Sakhawat said, finding the fresh pug marks of Leopard most of time near Trail-6 Office of the IWMB establishes Leopards strolling at a close distance during wee hours.
IWMB Forest Guard Asad Hayat who used to patrol in the Leopard Preserve Zone claimed that he first heard a Leopard’s growl from a distance of less than 50 meters and it was a very close encounter.

“We started studying the scats or droppings of Leopards that revealed it’s prey and presence timings on the site”, he added.
Margalla Hills is a precious bounty of nature and its centuries old trees grown in an abrupt dramatic manner reveal mysterious movie scenes showcasing the mighty jungle. Its’ indomitable rein of plants serve as lungs for capital residents absorbing carbon dioxide emitted by ever increasing vehicular population. Therefore, it is our shared responsibility to preserve its beauty and habitat.