The curious case of the Chitrali tiger

The curious case of the Chitrali tiger

Fatehul Mulk Ali Nasir 

On a bitterly cold snowy day, in the frigid month of January, a Chitrali huntsman once saw a brightly coloured creature that he had never seen before. As to what this animal was and how it got to where it was sited is the story of today’s tale.

Lot Shikari was a professional hunter in the service of several Mehtars of Chitral and he spent most of his life in the royal shikargah of Chitral Gol, which starts just on the outskirts of Chitral Town and extends up to watersheds with the Lot-Kuh Valley on one side and the famed Kalash Valley of Rumbur on the other. Although gazetted by the central government as the private property of the Mehtar in the 1960s, it was unilaterally declared a National Park in the 1980s and is the subject of an ongoing legal dispute between the author and the government. The markhor population initially went up since then, but two other species have gone extinct from the Gol (nullah or side stream in Khowar) since it was declared a National Park: these are the Shapu or Ladakh urial and the Himalayan black bear. A further two species which would at times enter the Gol from other valleys, the snow leopard and ibex, have also not been seen for over a decade.

Recently, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Chitral Gol was under scrutiny as the markhor population was found to have decreased by over a thousand animals under his watch. Chitral Gol is the best example of untouched oak and deodar forest wilderness left in Pakistan, and I, more than anyone, would like to see it remain so and for the bear, urial, snow leopard and ibex to return. But first, the matter of title must be resolved.

The Deodar forest of upper Chitral Gol

Back to Lot Shikari: as mentioned earlier, he was a man who knew when and where every specimen of wildlife was to be encountered in Chitral Gol. He was also a shaman who practiced the ancient and now largely forgotten Kho rituals associated with ensuring a good hunt and pacifying the mountain spirits. Right up to his old age in the 1980s, children would be sent from their homes to get branches of juniper from him, which he collected from the forests to perform these rituals.

The following account was narrated by him to my father who held Lot Shikari in the highest regard and had hunted with him in Chitral Gol from the age of twelve until he decided to ban hunting in the nullah in the early 1970s. Lot Shikari would be based in the small hamlet of Merin in the lower part of the nullah during winter. This area is the location of an old Mehtari hunting lodge and also has a large area composed of fruit orchards and fields where corn is grown in summer.

This part of the valley has very thick forests of stunted oak trees and it is here that markhor congregate during the coldest part of winter. Predators used to follow the markhor down and prey on the old and young. These predators included wolves and snow leopards.

A Bengal Tiger in the snow, Bhutan

One day, Lot Shikari had gone out on one of his patrols – it must have been sometime in the 1920s – when he said he saw an animal that he had never seen before walk through the oak forests. There had been less snow that winter, so the ground beneath the trees was barely covered. But that day, the weather had turned and it was snowing heavily. In this picturesque scene of snow falling on the oak trees, he saw what he described as a massive cat-like animal with a bright orange coloration and large stripes running down its sides, walking gracefully. Lot Shikari had never left Chitral and was completely illiterate. He did not know what a tiger was, but when questioned as to whether it was a large snow leopard or even a common leopard (which sometimes do enter Lower Chitral from surrounding areas), he would deny outright. He insisted that he saw those creatures all the time, but this was something different. The only animal it could have been was a tiger.

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2 Replies to “The curious case of the Chitrali tiger”

  1. This writer introduced lion in Chitral. As usual referring to his popularly unpopular family legacy he had reconciled with the view of local reporter to justify Qaqlasht as Kaghlasht in one of his writing had introduced crow in upper Chitral plateau that the locals rubbished after it.

  2. According to wildlife there is a significant reduction in the population of Markhors especially in Chitral gole national park..It is a very alarming development for us.I would like to know what concrete steps have been taken for there preservation???? What are the reasons and factors leading to this unpleasant happening??? The public should be informed and updated as far as the number of Markhors are decreasing in such a alarming pace.Extinction of these magnificent animal is a possibility in near future .

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