The Markhor is one of the largest and most magnificent members of the Caprinae or goat family. Unfortunately the Markhor is also under threat of extinction across its range, which is largely within Pakistan's borders. Markhor are critical to the landscape, both as one of few wild prey items in their range for large carnivores such as wolves and snow leopards, and as a cultural icon both locally and as the "National Animal of Pakistan."
Markhor are threatened by intense hunting pressure (now with modern weapons from local conflicts), warfare, deforestation, and increasing competition and disturbance from domestic goats and sheep.
In response, this SOS - Save Our Species project, implemented by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), is developing a community-based conservation initiative in the center of Markhor distribution in Pakistan to help protect this species and its habitat. Community-based conservation is the only way to protect Markhor across most of their range in Pakistan as they are primarily found in parts of the country where local people own and control their resources, including the wildlife.
Political boundaries and biological boundaries rarely coincide. In this program's area, steep-sided mountains delineate valley watersheds that also function as local political boundaries between communities. However, Markhor are skilled mountain climbers, and do not define their home range by watershed - in fact, they almost always use a minimum of two watersheds (which for them simply constitutes both sides of a mountain). Thus even if a Markhor herd is protected by one community, the herd can still be under significant threat from a neighboring community. The creation of Markhor Conservancies will link different village committees together to develop coordinated management plans to monitor and protect the species.
Finally, while communities enthusiastically embrace this conservation approach, their capacity to do so is extremely limited. This program also builds local capacity to understand threats, options for controlling and managing those threats, and monitoring and evaluating their work. Regular meetings and workshops will be held with each committee to train members in modern resource management skills. Individuals are identified and trained to become community wildlife rangers. Training includes accurate identification of wildlife species and signs of occurrence, proper survey methodology, note taking, and data recording. These data then act as monitoring and evaluation measures to assess success.
The goal of this project is to immediately contribute to the conservation of the Endangered Markhor in northern Pakistan by building and supporting resource governance structures at the village level that will protect and sustainably manage the species. This program has now hit a tipping point - we work in over 23 communities and there is unprecedented interest across the region from communities to join this program, start up their own resource committees, deploy rangers, and protect Markhor. This interest creates a real window of opportunity to "nail down" Markhor conservation across the most important part of their range.