Conservation Confusion and Puchin Dumpokhta (The Pot-Roasted Spicy Wild Duck)

Sohail Iqbal

Pluck the feathers of a wild duck; smoke it on a charcoal fire so that all the bits of fluff are burnt away. Roast it in a spicy gravy ‘and we Kashmiris would love it ‘Batte kehow Mussalman ‘Muslims and Pandits alike.

Let’s revive wildfowling!

Let us face the fact that poaching of wildfowl is rampant in the Valley, and I see no reason as to why sportsmen should not indulge in it, when permission to sports shooting has been suspended needlessly and thoughtlessly. I am thankful to my friend Javid Mir [not the leader variety] to have sent me a brace of mallards this past December, while on his poaching mission outside one of the wetland reserves.
As is true of our demeanor in various other aspects – we simply shut the door to the affairs we cannot manage. The same principle has been applied to our shooting industry. People talk about various tourist attractions of the valley, breathtaking landscape, lakes, rivers, mountains, skiing, trekking, royal golf courses; none speaks about the need to revive our shooting industry.

If one desires to go for wildfowling in Europe or America, or to some other shooting destination, one pays through the nose, and in all probability, the quality of shoot remains far inferior to the past experiences of the valley. I am not stating that solely from my perspective, rather the world’s most prestigious shooting magazine ‘Shooting Times’ of the UK supports my view. The magazine carried a cover story on Hokarsar in late eighties with a bold caption:

"Hokarsar, the Best Duck Shooting in the World’.

Even Salim Ali, the world renowned ornithologist once said: ‘Kashmir is a heaven on earth for migratory birds’. Perhaps he was reflecting on the wetland reserves of the valley. Hokarsar Wetland Game Reserve is ( or perhaps was ) a picturesque expanse of marshy land – a naturalists’ dream. It is situated on the southern side of Srinagar-Varmul road, about ten kilometers from the city centre. It is fed by Dudhganga, whose waters gather within the peripheral ghat on the north and partly on western side of the reserve. The south and eastern ends of the reserve are open for paddy cultivation. The reserve is studded with a wild confusion of willows and poplars, and some grand chinar trees along its periphery. The snow-capped Gulmarg range often mirrors itself in the waters of the lake, perhaps to reassure itself of its eternal Snow White splendor. The reserve boasts of a prolific growth of auburn reed beds and sedges, interlaced with numerous weeds, which provide nesting grounds for our migratory visitors between late autumn and early spring.

The wildlife authorities stopped issuing permits for wildfowl shooting beginning 1990 due to reasons known to everyone. However, in the latter half of 1990, Dr. Farooq Abdullah tried reviving this industry in his maiden outing to Hokarsar, but he came under heavy condemnation from Maneka Gandhi.

If the word Conservation has been misinterpreted, it has to be the subcontinent. I am not sure what authority does Maneka Gandhi hold on wildfowling in the valley so as to feel objectionable to regulated shooting. The result is that since activities within our shooting reserves have ceased, so have the habitats While watching a documentary produced by NDTV showcasing wetland reserves of the valley some months ago, I was absolutely shocked and grief stricken to have watched the dilapidating condition of the Hygam reserve. A breathtaking expanse of water and reeds transformed into a lurid ditch.

Wetlands act as kidneys to the landscape. In essence, they act as a transition zone between the highlands and the deep-water aquatic systems. The water level in wetlands varies according to the seasons; being low in summer, and high during winter months. Many processes take place in wetlands, which can have a global impact; they can affect the export of organic materials or serve as a sink for inorganic nutrients. By virtue of their natural locale, which I term, ‘˜a bit of fish and a bit of fowl’, they are rich in ‘˜bio-diversity’. The main reason being that they borrow species from both aquatic and terrestrial bodies.

Wetlands also provide habitats to numerous species of flora and fauna. Being rich in bio-diversity, they are also beneficial to humans; as we rely on these ecosystems for commercial and sport fishing, hunting and recreational uses. Wetland acts as a sponge, and absorbs great amounts of water. In an ecological context, they are quite useful as they cleanse polluted waters, prevent floods, and recharge groundwater aquifers.

Sporting inactivity, illegal encroachment, paddy cultivation, grazing and conversion of large areas of the reserve area for fuel-wood plantation have also adversely affected the purpose of natural wetlands.

In the context of wildfowl shooting in the valley, it might seem paradoxical to assert that controlled and regulated shooting helps bio-diversity. Shooting provides the incentive for the retention and enhancement of many important habitats. The shooting community develops an extensive knowledge of countryside management, and close links with the agricultural community. And, in the process, habitat and species flourish where they are important to people. The social and economic aspects of sporting shooting benefit rural areas and the credibility of biodiversity conservation.

Besides, balance of Nature is another important dimension that may justify regulated shooting. Need I introduce the concept of ‘culling’- an unavoidable euthanasia carried out on animals to keep certain species to manageable limits: elks are culled to avoid numerous traffic accidents in Scandinavia; a particular species of doves are culled in America, and numerous other wildfowl are sometimes culled to prevent outbreak of avian cholera. However, no one suggests such a recipe for Hangul or similar species that are critically endangered.

In our case, wildfowl shooting shall complement the economy of the state. We have vast funds of flora & fauna, only an effective management is needed to protect the principle of ‘Sustainable Use’.

On scientific grounds, the greatest threat to the ‘flora and fauna’ should be perceived from the ‘Habitat Loss ‘, and not necessarily from some reduction in its constituents. Given the appropriate habitat, life-cycle not only sustains itself, but proliferates as well. Conservation does not mean inertia or accumulation; it means effective generation and a balanced expending.

I must admit that I am not too sure in respect to the legislation that governs the ban on wildfowl shooting within our homeland, or if indeed there is one. In any case, it would be a great pleasure if our young CM takes a fresh look at the subject and revives regulated wildfowl shooting all in accordance with the ethics associated with it. In case regulations governing the ban are local, the job of effecting revocation might not be too difficult, however if legislations are Delhi based, he can plead the case from an environmental, scientific, social and economic perspective.

Someone has rightly said: ‘The extreme in the environmental movement should not shut down economies; no one should be allowed to shut down the lives of people by going to the extreme in environment’.

Tail piece:
In the next five years, the population of stray dogs shall outnumber the inhabitants of Srinagar ‘2 million dogs as against 1.5 million people. Maneka jee, are you listening ‘I hope I am not barking up the wrong tree.

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