With humans in lockdown, wildlife thrives in Islamabad

With humans in lockdown, wildlife thrives in Islamabad
A leopard is seen on a surveillance camera  at Margalla Hills National Park in Islamabad. (Photo courtesy: Islamabad Wildlife Management Board)
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Updated 30 April 2020

With humans in lockdown, wildlife thrives in Islamabad

With humans in lockdown, wildlife thrives in Islamabad
  •  Freed from human encroachment, some species begin to emerge

ISLAMABAD: As the human residents of Islamabad retreat to their homes under the coronavirus lockdown, wild animals feel emboldened to leave their hideouts and make an appearance.

 Freed from human encroachment, species which for a long time have not been seen in the Margalla hills have now emerged.

“We have seen approximately 30 percent more wildlife at Margalla Hills National Park,” Dr. Anisur Rahman, chairman of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board, told Arab News. “Wildlife was already there,” he said, “but it was unobserved because of frequent human visits.”

The scenic park, which extends over more than 17,000 hectares, is one of the most popular leisure destinations for the Pakistani capital’s dwellers, who normally disturb its original inhabitants every day with considerable foot and car traffic.

“There are three hiking trails and thousands of people each day used to go for a walk on those trails. Also, there are some popular restaurants in the middle of the park and hundreds of vehicles enter to reach them,” Rahman said.

Over the past five weeks when the park has been closed to the public, some of the animals that have turned up have proved to be endangered species that were feared to have disappeared from the region. Among them is the leopard, one of the world’s most endangered big cats.

In late March, only days into the capital city’s lockdown, Islamabad Wildlife Management Board cameras started to spot leopards. “We have seen three leopards in the park, and they all were in different locations, far away from each other,” Rahman said.

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30 percent more wildlife observed at Margalla Hills National Park.

In a very short time the wildlife department was able to learn about the park’s inhabitants and their behaviors much more than it would have during years of research.  

“The spring is mating season for birds, and during the lockdown we have captured on our cameras their rare mating dances,” Rahman said. “Now we are in the process of analyzing all video footage and the department will be able to share some data or statistics on wildlife in the coming weeks.”

Social media posts about animals, especially monkeys, frolicking through Islamabad’s deserted streets have enchanted many people, creating an impression that nature is reclaiming what was hers. But the reality is somewhat less romantic.

“We have seen an increase in the number of monkeys at the park and it just has no capacity to produce enough food for them,” Rahman said. The monkeys now seen on the streets and entering private estates had been used to human food; they subsist on the leftovers when visitors come to the park and when its restaurants are open.

However, narratives that animal populations will retake Islamabad are naive.

While humans are still out of the picture on the trails of the Margalla hills, despite the Islamabad administration’s decision to reopen parks on Tuesday the rhythm of urban life will soon be back to its “normal” pace, and animals back to their hideouts.

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France targets mosques in extremism crackdown

Updated 03 December 2020

France targets mosques in extremism crackdown

France targets mosques in extremism crackdown
  • Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected were found to promote extremism they would be closed down
  • Inspections are part of France’s response to two attacks — the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty and the killing of three people in a Nice church

PARIS: French authorities will inspect dozens of mosques and prayer halls suspected of radical teachings starting Thursday as part of a crackdown on extremists following a spate of attacks, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

Darmanin told RTL radio that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected was found to promote extremism they would be closed down.

The inspections are part of the government’s response to two brutal recent attacks that shocked France — the October 16 beheading of a teacher who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and the stabbing to death of three people in a church in Nice on October 29.

Darmanin did not reveal which places of worship would be inspected. In a note he sent to regional security chiefs, seen by AFP, he cites 16 addresses in the Paris region and 60 others around the country.

On Twitter Wednesday he said the mosques were suspected of “separatism” — a term President Emmanuel Macron has used to describe ultraconservative Muslims closing themselves off from French society by, for example, enrolling their children in underground schools or forcing young girls to wear the Muslim headscarf.

The rightwing minister told RTL the fact that only a fraction of the around 2,600 Muslim places of worship in France were suspected of peddling radical theories showed “we are far from a situation of widespread radicalization.”

“Nearly all Muslims in France respect the laws of the Republic and are hurt by that (radicalization),” he said.
The killing of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his pupils cartoons of Mohammad in a class on free speech, at a school outside Paris sent shockwaves through France, where it was seen as an attack on the republic itself.

In the aftermath of his murder the authorities raided dozens of associations, sports groups and charities suspected of promoting extremism.
They also ordered the temporary closure of a large mosque in the Paris suburb of Pantin that had shared a vitriolic video lambasting Paty.

The government has also announced plans to step up the deportations of illegal migrants on radicalization watchlists.
Darmanin said that 66 of 231 foreigners on a watchlist had been expelled, around 50 others had been put in migrant detention centers and a further 30 had been placed under house arrest.

The minister announced the latest clampdown after receiving fierce criticism for pushing a bill that would make it harder to document police brutality.

Images of officers beating up black music producer Michel Zecler in his studio brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets last weekend against Darmanin’s push to restrict the filming of the police in the new bill.
MPs from Macron’s ruling Republic on the Move party have since announced plans to rewrite the legislation.