BY OUR CORRESPONDENT
GILGIT: Golden Eagle [Aquila chrysaetos], which was last seen over two decades back, has reemerged in Gilgit – Baltistan’s [G-B] Nagar valley, bringing joy and fears simultaneously in the valley.
Climate change leading to food scarcity was believed to be one of the factors causing the disappearance of the world’s largest bird in parts of G-B.
The Golden Eagle is one of the largest, fastest, nimblest raptors found in this mountainous region. Lustrous gold feathers gleam on the back of its head and neck; a powerful beak and talons advertise its hunting prowess.
“It is back in the valley after well over two decades,” Mujahid Ali Shah, a schoolteacher at Nagar valley told Outpost on Monday.
“The disappearance of this native species in the valley was triggered by the overall climate change that also affected this region,” said Shah, who studied landscape ecology at the University of Greifswald.
The emergence of the bird was first reported by shepherd Muhammad after the bird preyed on his lambs this month in Nagar.
According to the shepherd, the giant bird has lifted six of his lambs this month as he took them to mountains for grazing.
“I’ve lost six of my lambs to the giant eagle this month. It just drops with an astonishing speed on to the lambs and lifts them without giving them any time to react,” Muhammad was quoted as saying.
Golden eagles maintain home ranges or territories that may be as large as 200 km2 (77 sq mi). They build large nests in high places (mainly cliffs) to which they may return for several breeding years.
During flight, the bird’s wings stretch up to 2 meters each.
There are various myths associated with the giant bird in Nagar valley.
"It was some 35 years ago when my two-year old son almost become a prey to the giant bird,” narrates Safia a seventy years old woman who lives in Phakar village in Nagar valley.
She said the boy was playing in an open field in the village when a Golden Eagle started hovering over him. “Realizing the threat I brought him near my house and thought he was safe. But to my surprise the bird was following him. I immediately covered him in my lap and took him into my home."
There are narrations that mothers in the valley used to keep their children indoors during December as it was considered prey season for the bird.
Hopes and fears
The emergence of the bird brings good as well as bad news in the village.
“The good news is that the return of the bird means the environment is improving as the bird can return only in a health environment,” says Shah.
“But the bad news is that there is a growing fear among the mothers and the farmers with respect to the safety of the kids.”
An assistant professor in Karakoram University Muhammad Zafar says though Golden Eagle is listed in the IUCN endangered species list, its not as such threatened. “Its not threatened but let me say that its return is reflective of the healthy environment that the valley is certainly has,” Zafar told Outpost.
The nest of the Golden Eagle is at the mountain cliff of Chokobat in the valley.
Chokobat is where a snow leopard raised its two cubs back in the year 2002. The cubs were caught by villagers while their mother was away and handed them over to the government officials.
"The sanctuary of golden eagle and snow leopard-Mount Chokobat is under threat due to the increasing traffic on the Karakoram Highway,” said Shah.
The fixation of a mobile phone tower near the area has increased human access to the mountain.
"The government should develop corridors on the KKH for crossings of wildlife and there should be ban on playing horn near hotspots and sanctuaries like Chokobat Mount cliff,” says Shah.