Wildlife found in Pakistan includes the wild sheep, snow leopard, leopard, Siberian ibex, bear, wolf, fox, Marco Polo sheep, wildcat, musk deer, jackal, hyena, porcupine, gazelle, peacock, pythons and wild boar. As of 2002, there were at least 188 species of mammals, 237 species of birds, and over 4,950 species of plants found in Pakistan. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Gharials used to live in the Indus River. In the early 20th century, the crocodilians were considered common in the Indus River and its Punjabi tributaries. By the early 1980s, it was almost extinct in the Indus. During surveys in 2008 and 2009, no gharial was sighted in the river.

In 1995 a Westerner saw a wooly flying squirrel in an isolated area of Pakistan. The animal was thought to be extinct. Khunjerab National Park in Hunza has high altitude grasslands, which have been the subject of conflicts over grazing rights; they are the habitat of endangered Marco Polo sheep and snow leopards. Lots of scorpions and snakes thrive in some parts of Pakistan.

National Animal of Pakistan: Markhor
National Bird: Chukar
State Bird: Peregrine Falcon
National Predator: Snow Leopard,
National Mammal: Indus River Dolphin
National Reptile, Indus Crocodile

Endangered Animals in Pakistan: mammals: 23 ; bird: 25 ; reptiles: 10; amphibians: 0; fish: 30 ; molluscs: 0; other invertebrates: 0; plants: 90; total: 99; Red List in 2009: [Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), The Guardian theguardian.com ]

Plants in Pakistan

Coniferous and deciduous forests, scrub woods, mangrove forests, and tree plantations can be found in Pakistan. According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations: Some 40 percent of the forests are conifer or scrub woods, found mainly in mountain watershed areas. Pakistan's forest cover has been reduced to just 4 percent or lower. Deforestation in northern Pakistan has caused severe erosion when exposed mountain soil is washed away, resulting in excessive sediment in the Indus River. Grazing and fuelwood collection have decreased the coastal mangrove forests as well.” More than one third of Pakistan is considered at risk to desertification. Deforestation, depletion of soil, and water shortages all contribute to desertification, which results in a loss of vegetation and soil. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Mangrove forests of the coastal region give way to the mulberry, acacia, and date palms of the sparsely vegetated south; the foothills support phulai, kao, chinar, and wild olive, and the northern forests have stands of oak, chestnut, walnut, pine, ash, spruce, yew, and fir. Above 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), birch, dwarf willow, and juniper are also found.

National Tree: Cedrus Deodara National Fruit: Mango National Flower: Jasmine

According to Geo-Data: “The upper Indus River plain, in Punjab, varies from about 150 to 300 meters (500 to 1,000 fee) m) in elevation and consists of fertile alluvium deposited by the rivers. The lower Indus Plain, corresponding to generally the province of Sindh, is lower in altitude. On the Indus plain, grasslands called "doabs" provide grazing on the strips of land between rivers. [Source: Geo-Data: The World Geographical Encyclopedia, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]

Pakistan's Thal Desert is south of the Salt Range, between the Indus and Jhelum rivers. The Thar Desert (Cholistan Desert) lies south of the Sutlej River along the Pakistan-India border. Both are extensions of India's Thar Desert. The Balochistan Plateau is largely a desert area with erosion, sand dunes, and sandstorms. In these areas desert vegetation grow. In some places there is no plant life. There is also a dry region in the northern Chilas-Gilgit area, which is in the Himalayan rain shadow.

Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Crocodiles in Pakistan

Fossils of at least 1,500 dinosaurs dating back to period of the mass extinction of the dinosaurs around 65 million years ago have been found at 16 different locations in Balochistan. Scientist hope the discovery to will provide information as how the mass extinction occurred.

In 2005, scientists announced that 90-million-year-old crocodile fossils found in Brazil had links to similar creatures in Pakistan, suggesting an ancient land bridge between South America to Indo-Pakistan. Associated Press reported: Scientists unveiled 11 skeletons of prehistoric crocodiles. The fossilized skeletons of the Baurusuchus salgadoensis appear to be closely related to another ancient crocodile species, the Pabwehshi pakistanesis discovered in Pakistan, scientists from Rio de Janeiro's Federal University said. “This discovery really proves that South America was at one time linked to the India-Pakistan bloc, and this link could have only been through Antarctica or Australia," said Rudolph Trouw, regional editor of the scientific magazine Gondwana Research. [Source: Associated Press, June 8, 2005]

The Baurusuchus salgadoensis lived 90 million years ago in an area of southeastern Brazil known as the Bauru Basin, 450 miles (700) west of modern-day Rio de Janeiro, said Pedro Henrique Nobre, one of the authors of the crocodiles' scientific description. An adult measured about 10 feet (3 meters) from head to tail and weighed around 900 pounds (400 kilograms), making it the largest crocodile species ever discovered in South America, Nobre said. Unlike modern crocodiles, the Baurusuchus had long legs and spent much of its time walking. It also could live in arid areas where water was scarce, like other carnivorous creatures of the epoch, Nobre said.

Prehistoric Walking Whales of Pakistan

Whales and dolphins first emerged about 50 million years ago. Fossils of a 51-million-year-old whales that could actually walk were found in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan in 1981. This creature, called Pakicetus , was a relatively small, furry, four-legged animal that looked like an otter with a furry crocodilian head. Fossils of a 49-million-year-old whale, called Ambulocetis natans , were found in Pakistan in 1994. It resembled Pakicetus but was larger and had splayed legs. [Source: Douglas Chadwick, National Geographic, November 2001]

Tom Mueller wrote in National Geographic: Philip Gingerich started fieldwork in middle Eocene formations in the Punjab and North-West Frontier (now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province) Provinces of Pakistan in the 1970s. When his team “uncovered some pelvic bones in 1977, they jokingly attributed them to "walking whales" — a preposterous notion. At that time the best known fossil whales were thought to be similar to modern whales, with sophisticated mechanisms for underwater hearing, powerful tails with broad flukes, and no external hind limbs. [Source: Tom Mueller, National Geographic, August 2010]

Then in 1979, a member of Gingerich's team in Pakistan found a skull about the size of a wolf's but with prominent — and very unwolflike sails of bone at the top and sides of the skull to secure robust jaw and neck muscles. Stranger still, the braincase was little bigger than a walnut. Later the same month Gingerich came across some archaic whale specimens in museums in Lucknow and Kolkata (Calcutta), India. "That's when the tiny braincase started to make sense, because early whales have big skulls and relatively small brains," Gingerich remembers. "I began to think that this small-brained thing might be a very early whale."

“When Gingerich” examined the skull “he found a grape-size nugget of dense bone at its base called the auditory bulla, with an S-shaped bony crest on it known as the sigmoid process — two anatomical features that are characteristic of whales and help them hear underwater. Yet the skull lacked several other adaptations that living whales use to hear directionally beneath the waves. He concluded that the animal had probably been semiaquatic, spending significant time in shallow water but returning to land to rest and reproduce.

Discovering this most primitive known whale, which Gingerich named Pakicetus, made him see whales in a new light. "I started thinking more and more about the huge environmental transition that whales had made," he remembers. "This was a creature starting out as a terrestrial animal and literally turning into an extraterrestrial.” In Pakistan in 2000, Gingerich finally saw his first whale ankle. His graduate student Iyad Zalmout found a grooved piece of bone among the remains of a new 47-million-year-old whale, later named Artiocetus. Minutes later Pakistani geologist Munir ul-Haq found a similar bone at the same site. At first Gingerich thought the two bones were the single-pulley astragali from the animal's left and right legs — proof that he'd been right about the origin of whales. But when he held them side by side, he was troubled to see that they were slightly asymmetrical. As he pondered this, manipulating the two bones as a puzzler maneuvers two troublesome puzzle pieces, they suddenly snapped together to form a perfect double-pulley astragalus.”


The Markhor is the national animal of Pakistan and one of the largest wild goats. Residing primarily in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the western Himalayas, it lives in mountainous regions at medium and high elevations, from 700 to 4000 meters, eating tussock grass in the summer and shrubby leaves and twigs on lower slopes in winter. Its reddish coat is short and smooth in the summer and gets longer and grayer in the winter. Males have a long beard and long hair on the throat, chest and shanks. Females have smaller fringes of long hair. Both sexes have horns which spiral upwards and are smaller on females and can reach a length of 1.6 meters among males but are generally only 25 centimeters among females. Markhor are 1.6 to 1.7 meters in length, with an eight to 14 centimeter tail and weigh 80 to 110 kilograms. Females are smaller than males.

According to the IUCN: This species is found in northeastern Afghanistan, northern India (southwest Jammu and Kashmir), northern and central Pakistan, southern Tajikistan, southwestern Turkmenistan, and southern Uzbekistan. The species was classed by the IUCN as Endangered until 2015 when it was down listed to Near Threatened, as their numbers have increased in recent years by an estimated 20 percent for last decade. [Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN Red List of Endangered Species]

The colloquial name is thought by some to be derived from the Persian word mar, meaning snake, and khor, meaning "eater", which is sometimes interpreted to either represent the species' ability to kill snakes, or as a reference to its corkscrewing horns, which are somewhat reminiscent of coiling snakes. According to folklore, the markhor has the ability to kill a snake and eat it. Thereafter, while chewing the cud, a foam-like substance comes out of its mouth which drops on the ground and dries. This foam-like substance is sought after by the local people, who believe it is useful in extracting snake poison from snake bitten wounds. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The markhor is also known as Shakhawat. The markhor is the national animal of Pakistan. Markhor marionettes are used in the Afghan puppet shows known as buz-baz. Local names: 1) Persian, Urdu and Kashmiri: markhor; 2) Pashto: margumay; 3) Ladaki: rache, rapoche (male) and rawache (female); 4) Burushaski: halden, haldin (male) and giri, giri Halden (female); 5) Shina: Boom Mayaro, (male) and Boom Mayari (female); 6) Brahui: rezkuh, matt (male) and hit, harat (female); 7) Baluchi: pachin, sara (male) and buzkuhi (female); 8) Wakhi: youksh, ghashh (male) and moch (female); 9) Khowar/Chitrali: Shara (male)& maxhegh (female). +

See Separate Article MARKHOR factsanddetails.com

Snow Leopards

Snow leopards are the national predator of Pakistan. They are called barfano chita—“snow cheetah”—in Urdu. Helen Freeman of the International Snow Leopard Trust, quoted in “Wild Cats of the World” said: “We feel the spirit of the mountains. In the cat there is a freedom to roam a region that is rugged and wild and often defies you to put one foot in front of the other, let alone leap. And the animal lives there, not with destruction, but with beauty."

Snow leopards are one of the world's rarest, most elusive and little studied large animals. They are generally very shy and well camouflaged, and hardly ever seen. Most encounters involve villagers looking for firewood or herding animals. The first photograph of one in the wild was taken in 1970 by the legendary zoologist George Schaller. Snow leopards prefer crags and ridges in steppe, rocky shrubs and open conifer forests at altitudes at around 3,500 (11,480 feet) to 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) but have been observed in mountains over 6000 meters (19,700 feet). In the winter they descend to lower elevations. [Source: Douglas Chadwick, National Geographic, June 2008]

Sparsely distributed across the high mountains of a dozen countries in south and central Asia, snow leopards are considered an endangered species. They range across 1 million square miles in portions if 12 nations in some of the world's greatest mountain ranges: the Himalayas, Karakorum, Kunlun, Hindu Kush, Pamirs, Tian Shan and the Altai between Russia and Mongolia and the Sayan chain west of Lake Baikal. Most of their range is severely fragmented. They favor steep, rocky slopes and alpine steppes above tree line. Their tracks have been found at altitudes higher than 19,000 feet. They have been seen in Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Tibet, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the Altai region of Russia.

Researchers estimate that the population has fallen by at least 20 percent in the last 16 years and now stands somewhere between 4,500 and 7,500 free-living cats, but Dr. Schaller said, “those figures are just wild guesses." The number today is thought to be half the number as a century ago. The largest numbers are thought to be in China and Tibet, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan.

Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times, "To Americans, snow leopards are perhaps the most beloved members of the great cat club, the exclusive group that includes tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards. Snow leopards retain the majesty and fluid, predatory elegance of the other big cats while incorporating touches of panda-esque cuteness, the incidental result of adaptations to the cold. [Source: Natalie Angier New York Times, July 25, 2011]


Leopards Emerge in Islamabad During Coronavirus Lockdown

In May 20, during the first wave of the coronavirus lockdown, AFP reported: “Leopards, jackals and other creatures living in Islamabad's tree-covered hills have been enjoying a rare respite from the throngs of hikers and joggers that normally pack the trails. Rangers in the Pakistani capital's Margalla Hills National Park saw animal activity increase soon after the city was locked down in March to counter the coronavirus. Islamabad's normally reclusive leopards have been roaming onto deserted pathways, and social networks are rife with talk of purported sightings. [Source: AFP, May 16, 2020]

“Motion-triggered wildlife cameras have been clicking away as animals explore areas they had long been nervous to visit. “There is a big increase in the number of animals (seen) in the national park," ranger Imran Khan — not to be confused with the namesake prime minister — told AFP, . Images the park provided to AFP, include pictures of leopards padding along paths, an inquisitive jackal and a muddy boar. “Wildlife is comfortable as there are no visitors here. They are wandering here comfortably, which is a good sign for the jungle," Khan said.

“The park was locked down for about a month and foot traffic remains light as families, picnickers and walkers stay away during the fasting period of Ramadan. Sakhwat Ali, Islamabad's assistant wildlife director, said the space is home to 38 mammal species, 350 bird species and 34 reptile species including 27 types of snake.li added that rangers are conducting a survey and had already noticed new creatures. “There are some species of butterfly which were not reported earlier, but these are visible now," Ali said.

Brown Bears of Deosai Plains

The Deosai Plains are 32 kilometers south of Skardu in northern Pakistan, not far from K2, and China. This plateau is the habitat of the threatened Himalayan Brown Bear and many other wild animals. At an average elevation of 4000 meters, Deosai is the home of Deosai National Park, on of the world’s highest national parks. With Nanga Parbat mountain in the background, the park features crystal streams, unique fauna and flora, including 150 species of medicinal plants. On this rolling grassland there are no trees and the area is covered in snow for seven months of the year. Spring comes to Deosai in August when millions of wild flowers bloom. The park covers 3,5840 square kilometers. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. tourism.gov.pk ]

The Himalayan brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus), also known as the Himalayan red bear. It is a subspecies of the brown bear and ranges across from northern Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, northern India, west China and Nepal. It is the largest mammal in the Himalayas, with males reaching up to 2.2 meters (7 feet) in length (females are a little smaller). The bears are omnivorous and hibernate in dens during the winter. The bears go into hibernation around October and emerge during April and May. Hibernation usually occurs in a den or cave made by the bear. Himalayan brown bears eat grasses, roots, fruits, berries and other plants as well as insects and small mammals. They have been observed eating sheep and goats and occasionally take animals from villagers. [Source: Wikipedia]

According to Dawn: The brown bear is an omnivore and its main habitat in Pakistan is the Deosai National Park. Some of them have been spotted in Gilgit-Baltistan’s Rama Valley and Biafo Glacier. They are rarely ever spotted in Chitral or the Khunjrab National Park in Pakistan. Waqar Zakaria, an official on the wildlife management board in Islamabad who has spent 38 years of his life working for the conservation of wildlife and played an important role in the establishment of Deosai as a national park, said that a tremendous effort was made to protect the brown bear. . “He said, “Almost 30 years ago, we only found 17 bears during a survey. We put all out efforts to convert Deosai into a protected territory and in a recent survey we saw that the number has reached 76. It’s a huge success, but villagers are not comfortable with this growth.” Local veterinarian Ghulam Rasool said, “The population of the bear has increased but there is not enough food for them. For this reason, they enter into the village areas for their prey.” [Source: Shabina Faraz, Dawn, December 16, 2019]

Clashes Between Brown Bears and Villagers in the Deosai Plains

Shabina Faraz wrote in Dawn: “We may be forced to kill the brown bear,” a young villager told us angrily during a visit to Sadpara village, situated 30 kilometres from Baltistan region’s capital city of Skardu. “It eats our cattle.” The picturesque village lies between Skardu and Deosai National Park. [Source: Shabina Faraz, thethirdpole.net, Dawn, December 16, 2019]

The indigenous community of Deosai harbours misconceptions about the brown bear. The community views the bear as a threat and says it hunts their cattle. The park administration, however, rejects this idea as a myth. Even though it has been decades since Deosai was declared a national park, the dispute between the park administration and villagers about the threat of the brown bear has not been settled.

“Abbas Jan, the owner of a Deosai travel company in Sadpara village, agreed, saying the area specified for the national park is no longer enough for the Himalayan bear. For this reason, he said the bears now hunt near nalas (streams) close to the village — an ideal spot for cattle grazing. Villagers said in the last year, eight goats were hunted by bears at Mapelin stream — a figure seen as a huge loss. “We traced the footprints of the bear and found its scat at the scene of the incident last year. We provided all the evidence to the park administration, but instead of compensating us, they ignored it,” he said.

“Bears enter the village area before the start of the hibernation period in the extreme winter. Last year, the villagers said they hunted dozens of cattle. “We also witnessed its presence inside the village,” said Fida Ali Sultani, a hotel owner and resident of Chilam Astore village. But while the villagers express frustration at the bears allegedly hunting their cattle, there is another side to the story.

“Anees ur Rehman, the chairman of the wildlife management board, said he rejects all the evidence provided by the villagers. “The brown bear is an omnivore, but it is extremely unlikely that it hunts cattle as prey. We have examined the bear’s faeces and it confirms that they only eat herbs and voles,” Rehman said. . “There is no doubt that cattle are being hunted, but they must be targeted by different predators. This park is also the habitat of wolves and the snow leopard. The bear has gained importance since this became a national park, so [the other predators] are not being blamed,” he added. Zakaria, too, rejected the villager’s version of the story and said, “It is possible that the bear attacked some animal in an exceptional circumstance, but it is not a regular occurrence. Besides, the livestock is corralled for the safety of cattle in Sadpara village.”

“Villagers around Deosai are further disgruntled for financial reasons, as they had to surrender their inherited lands voluntarily for the national park. Although they were promised jobs, education and health infrastructure and were told that revenue generated through tourism will be spent on the community, the promises were not fulfilled.

“Despite laws against it, the brown bear is hunted by poachers. “Fakhar Abbas, who works as the director in federal wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation centre, told thethirdpole.net that there is a ban on trading the bear in Pakistan but despite that, there is evidence that the Makri Market of Thana Gulbahar, Peshawar (the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa province) is the largest trade market for the bear. They are also aware of a display centre in Gujranwala (a city in Punjab) where at least two dozen bears are sold per year, of which at least four are brown bear cubs. In Pakistan, they are used mostly for a street circus. Others are smuggled outside the country for their hide and use of their organs in the medicine market.

“Kamran Saleem, a filmmaker who spent several months in Deosai shooting his documentary titled ‘DEOSAI – The Last Sanctuary’ said his experience showed him that the bear is still being hunted in the extreme winter season and there are some hakeem (traditional medicine practitioners) in Skardu, who sell medicine made from the organs of the bear. He said the sellers of such medicine make an effort to ensure the buyers are not linked to any government institution.”

Indus River Dolphins

The Indus dolphin is the national mammal of Pakistan. It and the Ganges dolphin are regarded as the same species — the South Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) — and they in turn are different species from the Irrawaddy dolphins found in Myanmar, Borneo, Laos and Cambodia. The Indus dolphin is now found only in the main channel of the Indus River in Pakistan and channels between the Jinnah and Kotri barrages, and in the River Beas (a tributary of the Indus) in Punjab in India. The Ganges dolphin lives primarily in the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and their tributaries in India, Bangladesh, and NepalThere are about 500 Indus dolphins left and it is believed that the concrete barriers that divide the river may interfere with the mammal's ability to breed. Ganges dolphins are better off because their population is spread out over a larger area.

According to the World Wildlife Fund: Indus river dolphins are believed to have originated in the ancient Tethys Sea. When the sea dried up approximately 50 million years ago, the dolphins were forced to adapt to its only remaining habitat—rivers. Today, they can only be found in the lower parts of the Indus River in Pakistan and in River Beas, a tributary of the Indus River in Punjab, India. In Pakistan, their numbers declined dramatically after the construction of an irrigation system, and most dolphins are confined to a 750 mile stretch of the river and divided into isolated populations by six barrages. They have adapted to life in the muddy river and are functionally blind. They rely on echolocation to navigate, communicate and hunt prey including prawns, catfish, and carp. [Source: World Wildlife Fund]

From the 1970s until 1998, the Indus and Ganges river dolphins were regarded as separate species. Now are they are considered two subspecies of a single species. South Asian river dolphins have incredibly poor eyesight and rely on echolocation to find prey such shrimp and fish, including carp and catfish. The Ganges subspecies sometimes eats birds and turtles. The dolphins generally do not form tight groups but rather are usually seen on their own or in loose aggregations. [Source: Wikipedia]

South Asian river dolphins are strange creatures. First, they are nearly blind. Biologist Kenneth Norris said, "They have very long snouts lined with teeth that they seem willing to use in defense, unlike most dolphins. Ranging from five to eight feet in length, they swim on their sides and sweep their long bony snouts in wide arcs across the river bottom, emitting long trains of echolocation clicks that let them hunt fish in all but opaque waters."

The South Asian river dolphin reaches lengths of between 2 and 2.6 meters and weighs between 80 and 90 kilograms. Their eyes distinguish only between light and dark. They navigate in murky waters using echolocation. The swim slowly but rarely stop. They use their sonar to detect fish and the then snag them with their long beak. Ganges river dolphins often swim on their sides, with their flippers undulating from side to side. The tips graze the bottom for orientation. Using this technique they can move easily in shallow water. See Separate Articles: RIVER DOLPHINS IN ASIA: GANGES, MEKONG, IRRAWADDY AND YANGTZE SPECIES AND SUBSPECIES factsanddetails.com

Freshwater Sharks in Pakistan

Fresh water sharks have been reported in the Indus in Pakistan. There have been reports of few attacks and scientists speculate the sharks entered the rivers and over a long period of time adapted to the fresh water. These sharks are believed to be Ganges sharks, which are native the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers but range as far away as Pakistan, Myanmar, Borneo, and Java. The species remains poorly known and very rare. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Ganges shark (Glyphis gangeticus) is a critically endangered species of requiem shark found in the Ganges River (Padma River) and the Brahmaputra River of Bangladesh and India. It is often confused with the more common bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), which also inhabits the Ganges River and is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Ganges shark. Unlike bull sharks, which need to migrate to salt water to reproduce, species in the genus Glyphis are true river sharks. The genus is currently considered to contain three recent species; genetic evidence has shown that both the Borneo river shark (G. fowlerae) and Irrawaddy river shark (G. siamensis) should be regarded as synonyms of the Ganges shark, expanding the range of the species to Pakistan, Myanmar, Borneo, and Java. The species remains poorly known and very rare. See Bangladesh.

G. gangeticus is a little-known species that is yet to be adequately described. Its size at birth is 56 to 61 centimeters (22 to 24 inches), growing to an estimated 178 centimeters (70 inches) at maturity, with a maximum size of about 204 centimeters (80 inches). A typical requiem shark in its external appearance, it is stocky, with two spineless dorsal fins and an anal fin. Its snout is broadly rounded and much shorter than the width of its mouth. The mouth is long, broad, and extends back and up towards the eyes. Its eyes are minute, suggesting that it may be adapted to turbid water with poor visibility, such as occurs in the Ganges River and the Bay of Bengal. It has internal nictitating eyelids.

Peshawar’s Ravaged by Giant Killer Rats

In the mid 2000s, people in Peshawar complained of giant rats. Reporting from there,Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan wrote in the Washington Post: Here in a city that has defined Pakistan’s struggle against Islamist extremism, thousands of people have been killed or injured in terrorist attacks. But now, if asked their greatest fear, many residents cite one of the world’s other menaces: rats. Over the past year, according to Peshawar’s mayor, eight children have been killed by rats. At night, rodents spill out of the city’s crude sewer system, chewing through doors and walls, feasting on food supplies and overrunning hospitals and schools. [Source: Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan, Washington Post, April 5, 2016]

“And these aren’t ordinary rats, residents say. These creatures are big — so big that residents swear they can’t be native to the area. And that gives rise to yet more conspiracy theories in a country already prone to blaming its woes on outsiders. “They can be so big, like cats, and with two big sharp teeth in the front,” said Muhammad Humayun, 38, who describes the size of the rats by stretching out his arm and pointing from his elbow to the tip of his fingers.

“The average body of a Norway rat in the West, they say, is six to eight inches long. But some rat species in Asia have been known to grow larger, creating some uncertainty about what sort of rodent is now rampaging through Peshawar. Still, the roots of Peshawar’s rat problem appear obvious. More than 1 million people live packed together in poorly constructed houses in one of the oldest cities in South Asia. Uncovered sewage drains empty directly into streets or streams. Garbage is casually tossed onto sidewalks or vacant lots. Butchers slaughter cows and goats in store-front windows. And chicken and dairy farms can be found in the middle of densely populated neighborhoods.

Deaths and Conspiracy Theories Attributed to Peshawar’s Giant Killer Rats

Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan wrote in the Washington Post: Peshawar “residents are mystified as to why they are now being terrorized by one of human civilization’s most persistent foes. Some say the problem began after a series of floods in 2010 and 2012 flushed rats from their nests in the mountains near the -Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Others believe the rats were bred on U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and brought to -Peshawar in the trucks that are withdrawing coalition supplies on Pakistani highways. One theory is that super-size rats came in the luggage of refugees fleeing a military operation in Pakistan’s tribal belt, where rumors of huge rodents have persisted for centuries. There have been allegations that the rats were genetically modified by a foreign power and left here to terrorize Muslims. [Source: Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan, Washington Post, April 5, 2016]

Reports that rats have killed eight children and injured numerous others in Peshawar have escalated the crisis. Peshawar Mayor Muhammad Asim said one infant bled to death from rat bites to the face. Asker Pervaiz, a member of the local provincial assembly, said a 3-month-old baby died after a rat bit off part of an ear. Some Peshawar officials are skeptical, noting that few of the deaths have been confirmed by a doctor or mortician. “If a rat bites a baby, there is usually no medical evidence whether it’s a rat, a flea, a snake or mosquito,” said Taminur Ahmed Shah, a spokesman for the Peshawar Water and Sanitation Services, who blames Pakistan’s media for hyping the extent of the problem.

“But Noor Qadir, 33, has no doubt Peshawar’s rats are turning into killers. Qadir was sleeping in his house — located next to a brackish stream and a flour mill — on March 22 when his 8-month-old baby began crying. “I woke up to his screams and saw the rat was in bed with him,” Qadir said. “The rat jumped out of the bed, and I killed the rat, and there was blood and teeth marks on his face.” Qadir’s baby survived, but wounds from nine razorlike incisions remain visible under the child’s eye. Now, like many of his neighbors, Qadir stays awake at night dreading a return visit. “I put my slipper in the space under the door, but half the slipper was eaten by the rat,” he said.”

Trying to Get Rid of Peshawar’s Giant Killer Rats

Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan wrote in the Washington Post: “Amid an outcry from lawmakers and residents,” over the rats, Mayor Asim “announced a three-pronged strategy to treat rats in the same manner the city combats “the hideouts of militants.” To win the battle, Asim has created a new team of 30 municipal workers who will be spreading rat poison throughout the city each night. Free rat poison was made available to residents. Peshawar has also set a bounty on rats, promising 25 rupees (about 25 cents) for each dead rodent. “People are afraid,” Asim said. “They say these are not your normal rats. . . . They will eat your food. They eat your clothes, and they eat your papers.” [Source: Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan, Washington Post, April 5, 2016]

“As with Pakistan’s sputtering war against human terrorists, there are already signs that Peshawar’s struggle against rats will be hampered by poor planning and a lack of commitment. On Friday night, the new rat eradication team collected 500 rat carcasses after it left poisoned bread in three neighborhoods. On Saturday evening, however, the team decided to take a night off because rain was forecast. Peshawar officials temporarily suspended the reward program over the weekend because they were caught off-guard by how many people showed up with dead rats — and demanding payment.

“Peshawar does have one crucial asset, however. The city’s eradication effort is led by Naseer Ahmad, a local celebrity nicknamed the Rat Killer. After the wife of one of his friends was bitten by a rat seven years ago, Ahmad took it upon himself to start killing the animals for sport.

Using his own special mix of poison — the same toxic brew Peshawar is now using in its citywide campaign — Ahmad has killed 103,050 rats over the past seven years, he says. He, too, believes the rats in Peshawar are getting bigger and meaner because of mysterious circumstances. “Based on my experience, this is not a local rat. This is something different,” said Ahmad, adding that he recently started finding rats with coin-size testicles. “They are now not even afraid of kids, and kids can’t fight them.”

“Peshawar’s strategy for killing rats, however, rests on children doing exactly that — motivated by the reward program, which is set to resume. “If everything else fails, the 25 rupee incentive won’t fail,” Asim, the mayor, said. “A lot of children are already scavengers who pick up paper and plastic” for money, he added, in what is one of Pakistan’s poorest cities. “Now, they can be working to kill the rats.” But Asim admitted that no one knows how many rats there are in Peshawar. And, he noted, the city’s new rat hunters are up against pests that can produce 20 offspring every 20 days.”

Pygmy Jerboa: The World’s Smallest Cutest Mammal?

Brian Dooling wrote in One Green Planet: “Ever wonder what the smallest rodent in the world looks like? Well, it’s actually pretty cute looking in its own disproportionate way. The Balochistan Pygmy Jerboa is the world’s smallest species of rodent with a weight of less than an ounce at around .132o oz, a body length of 1.7 inches, and a tail length of up to three inches. [Source: Brian Dooling, One Green Planet, 2013]

“Also known as the Dwarf Three-toed Jerboa, it looks like a child’s art project with just a tiny cotton ball for the head and a long string for the tail when sitting. When these rodents actually stand up, they look more like miniature Kangaroos, with their hind legs longer than their front legs and disproportionately large feet to hold them up.

“According to the IUCN Red List, they are native to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their habitat includes rolling sand dunes, barren flat gravel, and sandy deserts. Unfortunately, there is not enough data available to determine population or population trends. It’s amazing to see the design of nature in such a small creature and how body parts that don’t seem to fit together do. Check out the videos below to see just how cute tiny rodent is.

Government Cover Up of Wild Peacock Deaths

In the early 2010, there were stories reports of wild peacocks in Pakistan dying in droves along with accusations that the government was covering it up. Michele Langevine Leiby wrote in the Washington Post: In the Thar desert area of southern Sindh province there were stories “about peacocks whirling themselves to death in mad dances that appeared to have no earthly explanation. By midweek, more than 120 peacock deaths had been reported — and the toll would keep rising — but the government would only acknowledge that 11 peacocks had died” as newspapers carried photos of children carrying corpses of the magnificently plumed fowl. [Source: Michele Langevine Leiby, Washington Post, August 10, 2012]

“It turned out that the answer to the strange deaths was relatively simple: The peafowl were suffering from Newcastle disease, a contagious viral infection that causes dehydration, affects the brain and often causes the birds to spin. The disease — known as Ranikhet in Pakistan — hit Thar and six other districts in Sindh. Thar alone is estimated to have 70,000 peacocks. The peacock is wild in the province. Some poor villagers, including members of the Hindu community, keep the birds for their valuable feathers. Hindus consider the peacock sacred because of its association with several deities, and killing a peacock is a sin, according to Kenia Nagpal, a Hindu leader in Karachi. “We have a respect for this bird as well as a duty,” he said. “Poor people raise it for economic reasons, but they are not greedy people.”

“The outbreak may have started in India, where the peacock is the national bird. In mid-July, some Indian media outlets began reporting on unusually high numbers of mysterious peacock deaths. Saeed Akhtar Baloch, Sindh’s chief wildlife conservator, said officials began tracking reports of peacock deaths in Pakistan on July 18 but found only a handful of dead birds. He said the outbreak originated in poultry. “It is almost under control,” Baloch said in an interview. “We have a lot of doctors working on the case.” Sindh Wildlife Minister Daya Ram Essarani accused the media of exaggerating the numbers and said in a news release that more than 6,000 peacocks have been vaccinated and were recovering.

“But villagers challenged the claims, and veterinarians at Sindh Agriculture University criticized the provincial government’s response. “The Sindh Wildlife Department does not have the means to control the disease immediately,” they said in a report to university officials. “Most of the dying peacocks can be saved if they are given the medicines on time,” the veterinarians added. But as the week went on, the toll rose. Pakistan’s Geo television network put it at 167 deaths over 24 days. Muhammad Babar Hussain, founder of VENOMOUS blog Pakistan Weather Portal, cited drought conditions and shortages of food sources for peacocks as factors behind the heavy impact of Newcastle disease. He said a 2003 outbreak was stemmed by quick action by authorities.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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