1994, Janet Burnell, Study Tour, India

The Chitral Gol National Park

By Janet Burnell

The Chitral Gol National Park (7,750 ha) IS situated in the northernmost district of the North West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P.) of Pakistan, 3 km west of Chitral town. Originally it was a hunting reserve owned by the Mehtar (ruler of the former State of Chitral), it was declared a national park in 1985, primarily to protect the markhor (large mountain goat) and other wildlife such as ibex, snow leopard, black bear, wolves and urial. The objectives are: to preserve the landscape in its natural state; protect the indigenous flora and fauna; manage wildlife populations and to develop facilities for research and tourism.

The park includes the narrow valley of the Chitral Gol, the broad basin and its head (summer pasture) and the surrounding slopes up to the high peaks. The altitude ranges from 1,500 m to 4,979 m. The rock is shale and limestone and although the soil of the valley floor is quite deep, on the slopes it is shallow and easily eroded and in many areas landslides have formed large scree slopes.

The monsoon rains do not reach this part of the Hindu Kush range and so the conditions are dry and temperate. The mean annual rainfall is 450 m while the temperature ranges from a maximum of 43°C in July to a minimum of -12°C in January.

As part of my study tour to Northern Pakistan I spent the last week of July in Chitral, where I was looked after by Mr. Faraz Khan, the District Forest Officer, Wildlife Division. I spent three days in the Chitral Gol National Park with staff from District Forest Office. From the town we walked to the first lodge (2,780 m) through Quercus ilex and Artemesia scrub, After a night’s rest we scrambled across scree slopes and walked through Cedrus deodara, Pinus gerardiana and P.wallichiana forest to more dense vegetation by the nullah (2,187 m), We then climbed over a ridge (3,130 m) to the summer pastures (2,781 m). The pastures were heavily trampled by domestic animals, although there were few plants in flower some did have seed (Eremurus, Podocarpus),

The following day we walked up through the dry scrub of Prangos, Viburnumcotinifolium, Cotoneaster nummularia, Nepeta podostachys to a pass at 3,757 m. Between the rocks on the open scree slopes deep rooted plants such as Corydalis crassissima and Rumex hastatus were growing. Having crossed the pass it took seven hours to walk down to the village of Shoghor (2,165 m). At the top of this north-facing slope (where snow still lay around), Cousinia Juniperus and Ephedera dominated the vegetation. Further down we stopped by some springs where shepherds had their summer huts, Swertia, Podocarpus, Mentha, Salix and Epipactis were growing in the moist turf, The last few miles into the village we walked by the side of an irrigation channel which snaked around the contour of the mountain side, Salix, Sophora, Sorbraria, Tamarix, Hippophae, Althea, Spiraea, Acer, Juniperus, Populus, Elaeagnus and Mentha were growing along the banks.

No families live in the park but the inhabitants of the seven hamlets on the periphery may collect dry firewood but no trees or scrub are allowed to be cut. These people may seasonally graze a limited number of animals in the park. The park is divided into a buffer zone and a Core zone. In the core zone no grazing or collecting of wood is permitted,

In 1985 all grazing was banned and this had an adverse effect on the wildlife. The wolves and snow leopard that normally fed on the domestic animals started to take more ibex and markhor. When the population of these animals became very low the numbers of wolves and snow leopard also decreased. Limited grazing is now permitted and the number of ibex and markhor are said to be on the increase, No study has been made into the effect of grazing on the pastures. When I was there the summer pastures were being very heavily grazed by sheep, goats and cattle and the ground was badly poached and compacted, especially near the corrals.

This trek enabled me to see the many plant habitats and vegetation types and to appreciate the fragility of the environment in the Chitral Gol. I would have liked to compare the vegetation of the summer pastures inside the core zone to that in the buffer zones, but this was not possible because all the pasture land is in the buffer zone and therefore it is all grazed. There is illegal grazing, poaching and felling of trees but with few staff in such a rugged and remote area this is impossible to control without the co-operation of the local people.

The Aga Khan Rural Support Group (A.K.R.S.P.) has, through local village organisations, many forestry plantations near the villages in the Chitral area. It is hoped that in time quick growing tree species will provide fodder, firewood and timber for the locals and that the pressure will be taken off the natural forests.

 

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