MASTER ABDUR REHMAN: A CONSERVATIONIST

I woke up elated this morning as it was the last Monday of the month, which meant that the first thing after the Pakistani flag raising ceremony and singing of national anthem, the students of my primary school would go to the Kund Malir beach and collect garbage from its shores.  This has been the practice of my students for the last two years.  The students would queue up on the rocky ledge near their school and march towards the beach which is about half a kilometre from there. It is a panoramic view, these students carrying plastic containers along the Makran Coastal Highway. On reaching the beach, they do not need any direction; they just roam around to collect garbage. Within 15 minutes the whole beach can be cleaned of any solid waste left by picnickers. The collected garbage is brought to higher ground, far away from the beach and buried in a deep pit dug by the students.

Kund Malir - A paradise on the Makran coast

Kund Malir – A paradise on the Makran coast

I have been a part of this endeavour since the beginning of this practice. I realized long ago that the beach on which I spent my childhood is becoming dirty because of the accumulation of garbage left on it. Kund Malir is becoming an important picnic spot because of its location, beauty and natural environment.

I was born in Kund Malir, a small village located in a desolated terrain on the Makran coast on 10 March, 1971. My father Pindoo was a fisherman who spent his whole life fishing in the rough Arabian Sea. Although he was uneducated he wanted all his children to be educated but unfortunately there was no school in Kund Malir.

Garbage collection from the beach

Garbage collection from the beach

I still remember my childhood friend Muhammad Alam whose father was also a fisherman. We used to run and play on the serene beach and learned to swim there. We trapped seagull in winter using fishing hooks. I do not remember when I developed love for nature but I still remember my adventures with Alam when we used to go to the mountains behind our village to find Sindh ibex on the rocks and Chinkara in the plains. We loved to see their babies jumping around. We have seen jackals, foxes and caracal many times. Once we saw a wolf which killed an ibex. We were afraid having just witnessed a fight between an ibex and wolf. We ran all the way to the village and got scolded by elders of the village. My father punished me and did not let me have dinner. But late at night after my father went to sleep, my mother brought dinner for me.

Garbage being dumped at a central location before being buried. My village is in the background.

Garbage being dumped at a central location before being buried. My village is in the background.

That did not stop us from venturing into the mountains. One fine day Alam and I went to climb a hard terrain. We spotted a herd of urial which was rare in our area. We told our elders about the herd excitedly but to our surprise, they were planning to hunt the urial. We decided to go to where we had spotted the herd and dispersed it before anyone from the village could come and hunt the urial. By throwing stones and sticks, we managed to scare the herd and it went away.  We happily returned to our village. The next day, the hunting team went to find the herd and we were anxiously waiting for their return. They came back late in the evening without any urial. We were happy and felt proud that we had saved a rare animal.

We used to trek to the River Hingol and watch crocodiles from a safe distance. We loved to see it bathing in sun on the banks of the river. Many times we saw it catching fish from the river. Once we saw crocodiles eating a dead goat, which it had probably killed. We knew that marine turtles come regularly to lay eggs in the nest on the shore in a place known as Kapees Tal (meaning place of turtles). In the winters we used to go to the beach and look for tracks of turtles, and sometime found females nesting and laying eggs.  Sometimes we witnessed turtle hatchlings coming out of the nest and rushing towards the sea. Seagulls used to gather around and pick at these juveniles. Initially we used to watch this scene but then decided to scare these predators away. When they saw us, foxes and jackals used to vanish but to scare away seagulls, we had to take off our shirts. This became a regular activity and we used to take along other children to scare away seagulls.

Lining up on the beach before clean up

Lining up on the beach before clean up

It all came to an end when my father told Alam’s father that he and I would have to go to Gaddani to take admission in the school. We were sad, leaving Kund Malir. We rode camels for two days to reach Gaddani and stayed at my uncle’s home. The only consolation was that my friend Alam was with me. There is not much to do in Gaddani and so we used to stroll on the beach after school. No fun, no wildlife and sadly no adventures in the mountains.

Garbage being collected

Garbage being collected

We used to wait for summer vacation eagerly and dream about going back to our village and starting our daily activities; observing the natural beauty around us and wild animals both on the shore but also in the mountains, plains and valleys. In Gaddani, we observed that life was very easy, supplies of items of daily use are readily available as there was a road link between Gaddani and Karachi. Kund Malir had no such roads. Sometimes people, usually wildlife and forest officers, used to come to Kund Malir on their jeeps taking about 12 hours to reach from Lyari. Items of daily use were brought to Kund Malir by boats from Karachi or Gaddani during winter.

During summer, Kund Malir becomes isolated because of the rough sea and rain. It is not possible to cross the Hingol River. At times, it took weeks before the water level in the river went down and we could get daily supplies. During such period, there used to be an acute shortage of food supplies.  In 1980, WAPDA constructed a manual local cable car which provided easy crossing of the Hingol River. That cable car was operative till 2005, and then a bridge was constructed on the Hingol River as a part of the Makran Coastal Highway.

We completed matriculation in 1990. I thereafter opted to join the Education Department as a primary school teacher in December whereas Muhammad Alam decided to become a compounder and later joined government service. Luckily we are both posted in Kund Malir. I am now Junior Vernacular Teacher. I completed my Bachelor of Arts in 2013 and now I am teaching in the middle school whereas Alam is a senior compounder running a government dispensary. Our interest in nature never subsides and now we persuade students in our school to care for the nature.

Ibex near my village

Ibex near my village

Our life changed dramatically when the government decided to construct the Makran Coastal Highway. Previously  the highway was aligned to pass through mountains in the hinterland area without passing  near our village but  some elders of our village and I met the Chief Engineer  and convinced him to align the road in such a way that it may pass near our village which he had agreed kindly. Construction of this road has now provided access to our village and we can reach Karachi in four hours, which we could not have imagined previously.

The Makran Coastal Highway also brought misery because a lot of wildlife disappeared. Now we do not see any ibex or chinkara near our village.  Although our village is located in the Hingol National Park, hunters have not spared any wildlife in the area. Traffic on the Makran Coastal Highway has also forced the animals to move to deeper in the mountains. People from Karachi used to come to our area and try to harvest precious plants like guggal for use in traditional medicine.

My childhood friend Muhammad Alam

My childhood friend Muhammad Alam

We decided that we will do something for the protection of the natural beauty of our area. The Wildlife Department was compelled to hire guards from our villages to patrol the area so that poachers may not kill any of the remaining wildlife in the area or its vicinity. I approached WWF-Pakistan for funds and to conduct a study of the guggal population as well as to create awareness among the population about this important plant. Now, through the efforts of this initiative, guggal is protected in the area and villagers are well aware of its importance. They now keep an eye on anyone who tries to destroy this plant.

Initially our community was against allowing picnickers to visit our beaches, as we considered them to be a part of our heritage but later on we were convinced that if we allow access of the beach to outsiders it will be a major source of income for villagers. This opened up a new avenue for us as now hundreds of people from various parts of Pakistan have started to come to Kund Malir on their way to Gwadar. This has resulted in a source of income for the population, but at the same time they were not careful and started to pollute the beach. There was no system of garbage collection, therefore, the beach became littered with plastic bags, plastic water bottles, styrofoam and other material. There was no solution for us to tackle this issue. We realized that sooner or later our beaches will be practically destroyed if this continued.

Collecting information about the endangered plant guggal

Collecting information about the endangered plant guggal

The development in Gwadar slowed down from 2006 and the number of visitors to our beach decreased drastically and the beaches started to regain their beauty. But then development in Gwader  got another boost  and Kund Malir beach started to receive  picnickers, especially on weekends. The level of pollution on the beach surfaced, which made us sad. We decided that we will clean the beach regularly.

I, being a teacher of the only school in the area, decided that once after every 15 days we will go to the beach and remove all the garbage. Since then it became a ritual every second Monday. We go to the beach, remove all garbage especially plastic. Initially we used to burn it but then I was informed by my friends at WWF-Pakistan that burning of plastics adds toxic chemicals to the atmosphere. Since then we dig a deep pit where we dump all the garbage collected from the beach. We also record any dead animals, including turtles or dolphins to WWF-Pakistan.

This is humble contribution that we are paying to this nation which enables us to have round the year access to our desolate village by building Makran Coastal Highway. I hope that people who visit Kund Malir will not pollute its beaches and will also not interfere with wildlife found around Kund Malir.

Muhammad Moazzam Khan is Technical Adviser, WWF-Pakistan

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