Wildlife watching is simply an activity that involves the watching of wildlife animals. It is the observation and study of wild animals with the naked eye, through visual enhancement device like binocular and spotting scope.
Gilgit-Baltistan is called high altitude desert, mostly constitute on mountainous area results harsh winter and pleasant summer where this harsh climatic condition support largest glacier in the world outside of the polar region. Three great mountain ranges, the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindukash are located within premises of Gilgit-Baltistan are the main attractions for trekker, mountaineers and tourists. Gilgit- Baltistan is home to unique wildlife biodiversity which are considered globally important for conservation like snow leopard, marcopolo sheep, blue sheep, Himalayan ibex and musk deer etc. the protected areas of G-B include 4 national parks 3 game reserve and 7 meant to conserve unique wildlife biodiversity while 22 Community control hunting areas have also been declared.
Gilgit-Baltistan can be hot spot for wildlife watching tourism, for conservation and sustainable use of natural resources there is great need to introduce new approaches of conservation of unique wildlife biodiversity. The government agencies, tourism sector and wildlife conservation associated NGOs and electronic media need to put their hands to attract the national and international tourist toward wildlife tourism. Wildlife watching tourism can make important contribution to community development and conservation simultaneously by raising awareness of the animal observed and their habitat by creating revenues for conservation and creating jobs, income for local communities. There are 22 Community controlled hunting areas in GB to uplift socio economic condition of communities but this practice adversely affects on the population of some wildlife species e.g. blue sheep, astore markhor if this practice continue for 5 year as some species of globally important could be extinct. The decline of wildlife population is not taken into account by the concerned authorities. Now this is time to introduce new approaches for conservation of animals which could benefit community also. Wildlife watching can be alternate of trophy hunting which has only merits and zero percent demerits but unfortunately wildlife watching has not been introduce so far, this can generate reseasonable revenue.
There is also need for greater understanding of the cost and benefits of managing wildlife sites for wildlife watching tourism, including the cost of providing necessary visitor facility such as roads and trails to inaccessible areas plus constructing sighting points.
Wildlife watching can only be sustainable if it contributes to the conservation and survival of the watched species and their habitat while providing economic benefits for local communities.
Sustainability of wildlife watching could be achieved through participatory approaches involving all stakeholders including government authorities, tourism sector; Conservation based NGOs and local communities of the area. Other important fact and factors which could be helpful for sustainability of wildlife watching include understanding biology of species, capacity build of tourist guides, provision of net revenue to communities and better management of tourism in protected areas and wildlife viewing sites.
The contributor is associated with WWF Gilgit – Baltistan.