People at the heart of WWF-Pakistan – Abdul Ghaffar

by Fatima Arif

Abdul Ghaffar is currently Incharge Vulture Conservation Centre at WWF-Pakistan’s Changa Manga aviary. After completing his BCom degree from Punjab University, he joined team panda on 5 June 2014.

Despite not having an environment or conservation related academic background, Abdul Ghaffar always had an interest in birds and wanted a career where he could somehow work with them. A local of Changa Manga village, he grew up with vultures being a common sight in the area. When the opportunity presented itself at WWF-Pakistan’s Vulture Centre, he didn’t think twice before applying for the job.

It is now more than two years since Abdul Ghaffar has been working to conserve white-backed vultures and in the process has been studying them on the job. Over this period his fascination for these birds has turned into an association to the extent that he calls himself their friend and has dedicated himself to the cause.

In general there are a lot of negative connotations and myths associated with vultures in our society. Even in places like Changa Manga the community’s recalls a time when they were thriving in their natural habitat. Elders tell stories of a time when they never had to worry about managing their dead livestock, all they had to do was leave it out in the open and the vultures would consume the carcasses. There was no danger of the spread of foul smell or disease. However, the current scenario is the opposite as there is not a single white-backed vulture can be found in Changa Manga in the wild. Now they worry about the spread of disease as wild dogs have taken the place of the natural scavengers but they are not a sustainable substitute.

“These birds are really important for our ecosystem. I have studied them up close for the past two years and now I can tell what they want from their gestures. Their parental behaviours are quite similar to how human parents treat their children. For example, both mother and father take part in the incubation of the chick, it’s grooming and feeding.”

Abdul Ghaffar looks after the birds at the centre and is responsible for not just providing them with food but ensuring their overall wellbeing, for which he regularly observes them and records the behaviour of each and every bird.

Abdul Ghaffar carrying food for the whie-backed vultures inside the aviary at the Vulture Centre, Changa Manga

Hope for the organization’s efforts and for the survival of these birds came last year, when two chicks successfully hatched and survived for the first time in the aviary. This year too, the same success followed and two more chicks survived. Seeing this progress is an encouraging sign for Abdul Ghaffar who tries to explain to his fellows residents the importance of vultures and the rest of the wildlife as well for a thriving ecosystem.

Hunting is known to take place in the Changa Manga area and in his capacity, Abdul Ghaffar tries to deter people from doing it. Working with WWF-Pakistan, he now understands the importance of conservation, how everything in nature has importance and adds to natural diversity. Each species, of fauna or flora, is a gift that must be cherished and protect for our survival.

Fatima Arif is Senior Officer Digital Media, WWF-Pakistan.

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