SAVE THE SYMBOL OF BRAVERY AND NATIONAL ANIMAL OF PAKISTAN MARKHOR
With its fabulous twisting horns, markhor is the largest of the goat family surviving only a few thousand now globally. Name markhor is thought to be derived from the Persian word “Mar” (snake), “Khor” (eater) representing its ability to kill snakes, or as an indication to its spiral corkscrew-like horns, resembling the coiling snakes. Famous for its bravery and impressive twisted horns reaching nearly 5 feet in length, markhor is the national animal of Pakistan. PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) adopted the national animal of Pakistan on its new revised livery in 2018. Markhor is also present on the logo of ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence).
There are 5 subspecies of markhors based on their horns shape and twist, Kabul Markhor (Capra falconeri megaceros), Sulaiman Markhor (Capra falconeri jerdoni), Bukharan Markhor (Capra falconeri heptneri), Astor Markhor (Capra falconeri falconeri), and Kashmir Markhor (Capra falconeri cashmiriensis). They can be found in central and northern Pakistan (Hunza, Ghizer and Chitral regions etc.), Northeastern Afghanistan, Southern Uzbekistan, Southern Tajikistan, and Kashmir in Northern India. It is adapted to steep and rugged mountains at the height of 4000-12,000 feet (500-3,500 meters). However, they reside at lower altitudes during the winter season to avoid cold. Markhor can attain the length of about 52-73 inches and 71-240 pounds of weight. Males are much heavier and taller as compared to female Markhor. Female markhors have reddish-colored while males have light brown to black-colored coat that is smooth and short during the summer season and dense and long during the winter. Male markhor has long bushy hair on the chin, chest, throat, and upper areas of the legs while the female has a shorter beard. Both the female and male markhor have prominent twisted horns that can grow to 25 cm (9.8 inches) on the females and up to 160 cm (63 inches) on the males. The age of Markhor can be estimated by counting the twists on its horns.
Markhors live in flocks, usually, 9 in number, consisted of female markhors and their young ones. However, Males prefer to live alone. Markhors are diurnal, mostly active in the morning and late afternoon. They are herbivores and their grazing pattern alternate seasonally i.e. browsing (winter), and grazing (summer). Markhors breed annually, mating season occurring during winter and autumn months. It is the time when solitary males join the female herds and fight aggressively by attacking, and trying to push other males off balance to sire the kids of the female herds. Gestation period in females lasts for 135-170 days and they give birth usually to 1-2 kids. Generally, kids stay with their mothers till next breeding season. Reproductive maturity occurs at the age of 18 to 30 months and is later in males (36 months). Females and their offspring make most of the markhor population, kids making up 31% and female markhors making up 32%. The lifespan of markhor is about 12-13 years.
Markhor’s natural predators are the wolf, black bear, snow leopard, and lynx. However, Markhor mostly resides on the cliffs that are scarcely reachable for predators. During danger, markhor readily escapes by using its outstanding climbing skills. It’s call for alarm resembles with the common domestic goat.
Markhor is fighting for its survival due to habitat loss, illegal hunting (horns used in the Asian medicine, meat used in human diet etc.), and rising competition and disruption from household sheep and goats. In 1998, Markhor had been categorized as critically endangered species by IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). It means there is a danger of its extinction in the near future if preservation measures are not maintained. In the year 2008, the global population estimate of this wild goat was less than 2500 mammals across 5 countries; Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and India. To check swift decrease in markhor population, local people were convinced by creating awareness and introducing trophy hunting. This conservation strategy granted financial profits to the local communities and was helpful in increasing markhor’s population in scrappy habitats with each passing year. The hunters are bound to hunt only adult male markhor attaining horn size of 32 to 36 inches and not the young ones.
Trophy hunting was carried out for Astore, Kashmir, and Suleiman Markhor in their respective habitats in the year 1999. In each of these 3 habitats, two licenses were issued for trophy hunts. However, later in the year 2004, after the considerable increase in the markhor population, the numbers of licenses were doubled for trophy hunting. In 1999, every trophy hunt was auctioned for $18,000. The auction reached $25,000 in the year 2000 and went up to $45,000 per markhor in the year 2005. Trophy hunt for one markhor crossed $100,000 in 2014, providing the handsome amount, (80% used) for the welfare of the local community and remaining used in protective measures for the critically endangered mammal. In the year 2015, Pakistan’s national animal was categorized as near-threatened species with the official claim of a considerable increase in wild goat’s number due to trophy hunting.