Margalla Hills’ habitat, biodiversity under threat

  • Park, its surrounding areas have over 30 settlements
  • Conservationists ask people not to disturb wildlife

ISLAMABAD: The increasing number of visitors, frequent fires and growing population inside and around the Margalla Hills National Park is threatening its habitat, biodiversity and scenic beauty.

According to officials of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) which takes care of the park, the increasing number of the visitors to the national park contribute towards habitat degradation, pollution and biodiversity disturbance.

A two-lane metalled road from Islamabad to Daman-e-Koh, Pir Sohawa, and the Makhnial range, and the installation of roadside lights in the park has increased traffic and subsequently air and noise pollution. This increasing traffic and the roadside lights which are not switched off till midnight restrict the movement of the animals and disturb their night life patterns.

Fires are a fairly common occurrence in the Margalla Hills and require significant expenditure and manpower to extinguish. About 85 per cent of these fires occur during the dry May-June period preceding the monsoon rains and are all caused by the people. One of the main causes of the forest fires is visitors’ negligence.

Usually visitors throw cigarettes or do not completely extinguish fire after cooking which leads to forest fires. IWMB sources say when members of the local community are fined or punished for illegal activities, they get involved in starting forest fires as revenge against authorities.

The local community intentionally sets fires in the forest so they can collect dry wood after the fire is put out as heavy fines can be imposed on cutting green trees. There are over 30 settlements in and immediately around the periphery of the park. The total population in the settlements in the national park is close to 70,000.

The largest settlement is in Nurpur with a population of just over 15,000 persons, followed by Chauntra with 12,000, and Kot Hathial, Gokena, Talhar and Shah Allah Dita with about 9,000 persons each. According to conservationists, people should not spread litter, do not light fires, avoid smoking and refrain from disturbing the wildlife.

There are two famous stories about the name of the area. According to one, Margalla is a combination of two words – Mar means snake and Galla means herd. Legend has it that there were many snakes in the Margalla Hills, hence the name. According to another story, the hills are named after a murderous gang that used to rule this area.

Despite its small size, the fauna of the park is quite diverse due to its rich variety of habitats including thick vegetation cover and steep hillsides that provide shelter to a variety of animals, birds, and reptiles. The national park was setup to provide refuge to the grey goral, barking deer and the leopard, as well as the rhesus monkeys, jackals, wild boars, porcupine, mongoose and the pangolin or scaly anteater.

This park has been placed in the Management Category V (protected landscape of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which is an international organisation working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.