Siberian cranes herald spring; omens of happy life, good fortune

Rafiullah Mandokhail

ZHOB: The migration of Siberian cranes heralds the arrival of spring here in Zhob valley that falls in the international migration corridor of Siberian cranes. Twice in a year, thousands of cranes congregate near the historic Zhob River that flows in the north of the city and fells into Gomal River. The bank of the river is an important stopover on the cranes’ long migration route from and to Siberian cold and snowy forests.

The cranes pass through here, called Demoiselle cranes known as Anthropoides Virgo. It is one of the four crane species out of 15 species exist in the world, pass through Pakistan. Today the migratory bird is on the verge of extinction because of excessive and illegal trapping-cum-killing. In recent years, the cranes were ruthlessly trapped, this is why the population of cranes has been dwindled.

Zhob valley falls on the international rout of cranes pass here in autumn and sprig every year. But unfortunately with each passing season, the flocks of crane lose their length and strength. The region is a ‘safe heaven’ for hunters and poachers who occupy the entire area along Quetta highway.

Extremely chilly weather in Siberian forests compels the precious birds to fly and access to a moderate weather. These ‘ambassadors of peace’ know no boundaries; their flocks fly across the rivers, mountains and deserts to get their destination. Their perilous journey starts from Siberia in September-October and after spending winter by the end of March-April, the cranes fly back to their native habitats. They make stopovers at lakes, river banks and water basins in many parts of the country including mountainous bordering area Zhob.

The influential hunters backed by some local people have made the official restrictions and obstacles meaningless including section 144 imposed by the district administration. Shooting and live trapping in a large scale not only led to a severe decline in the number of cranes but also posed a serious threat to their survival.

The hunters take a pair of tamed cranes in a cage to the hunting spot at night and then separate male from female ones before the arrival of flying cranes. Soon after the pair starts crying the flying birds hear their cries being deceived by their decoy cranes come down to low altitude and close to them. As they come down, the hunters throw a swirling iron weight tied to thread on the flock to entangle the flying cranes in the necks, wings and feet. Some times the armed hunters shoot down the birds with fire arms. Besides this the hunters also use birds mp3 voices recorded from the tamed birds – to lure the migrating flocks. The young villager explains – once he also trapped the cranes.

According to experts, the long-necks, long-legs, long rounded wings and streamline body cranes, live and breed near water. The cranes fly and honk simultaneously and can live two to three decades freely, but much longer while in captivity. The birds fly in flocks led by guides with their forceful voices. Vanishing forests, drying up lakes and unrestrained hunting are the major causes behind their rapid declining.

There is need for a strong multi-stake holder approach bringing on-board the various political, social and military stakeholders to develop a common conservation agenda. Otherwise it would be impossible to overcome crane hunting.

Creating public awareness, ecological education and enhance national and international cooperation and information exchange among the range states and other partner organizations are the measures to curtail hunting of migratory birds.