The magnificent Markhor, on its way back from near-extinction, is considered the national mammal of Pakistan. (Photo by Grahm Jones/Columbus Zoo).
Wild goat lovers can celebrate that the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced that the Markhor—a majestic wild goat species—is making a remarkable comeback from the edge of extinction in Pakistan due to conservation efforts.
Community surveys show Markhor populations in northern Pakistan’s Kargah region in Gilgit-Baltistan have increased from a low of about 40-50 goats in 1991 to about 300 this year.
The community surveys suggest that the total Markhor population where WCS works in Gilgit-Baltistan may now be as high as 1,500 animals, a dramatic increase since the last government estimate of less than 1,000 in 1999.
As Pakistan’s national mammal, Markhor are known for their spectacular corkscrew horns that can reach nearly five feet in length. They are an important prey species for large carnivores such as wolves and snow leopards.
Markhor have been listed as endangered by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 1994, with a 2008 global population estimate of less than 2,500 animals across five countries—Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and India. They are threatened by illegal hunting, habitat destruction, and competition from domestic goats and sheep.
WCS Deputy Director of Asia programs Peter Zahler, said the group is thrilled that Markhor conservation efforts in Pakistan are paying off.
"Markhor are part of Pakistan’s natural heritage, and we are proud to be assisting… to safeguard this iconic species," Zahler said.
WCS has developed a conservation program that helps create community conservation committees and trains wildlife rangers throughout Gilgit-Baltistan. Rangers focus on monitoring wildlife and enforcing both local and national laws and regulations related to hunting and other resource use.
Illegal hunting and logging have stopped in most of the valleys where the community rangers are active.
There now are 53 community conservation committees within the WCS Pakistan program covering four districts. WCS has helped many of these committees form a larger conservation institution, the Mountain Conservation and Development Program, which brings together members from each committee with government officials to help co-manage the region’s wildlife and forests.
WCS has recently developed a new management structure called "Markhor conservancies" that use Markhor herd home ranges to link different village resource committees together for coordinated monitoring and protection. This ensures that Markhor are safeguarded as they travel across steep-sided mountains into different areas.
WCS also works on Markhor conservation in Afghanistan.