Natural vegetation in Pakistan’s lowlands is sparse –wild grass, bushes and stunted trees – though irrigation has made the plains blossom. Parts of the lower Hindu Kush and Himalaya are heavily forested, especially where the monsoon reaches. One of the delights of the northern mountains id their unexpectedly lush, glacier-watered alpine valleys.
While the north may win in the flora department, Pakistan’s fauna is fairly rich in the south as well. Major habitats are coastal wetlands, the Indus plain, Baluchistan and the western mountains, temperate mountain forests, and alpine and higher zone. The deserts (south-eastern Sind and Punjab, and western Punjab’s Sind Sagar Doab) are barren except for the odd cactus, hardy flowers, small reptiles and rodents.
Among animals found across many foxes, hares, small rodents and reptiles, bats and common bird like kites, crows and magpies. Several national parks have been established as wildlife refuges, though none gets enough money or staff to stop the hunting.
Along Pakistan’s 800 km of Arabian sea coastline are sharks, shellfish and two species of sea turtles. There are some 100 to 200 species of fish in the Arabian sea off the coast, many of them edible. The Indus delta is mostly wasteland, but is home to wild boar and marsh crocodiles.
Even the Plains would be mostly desert if not for irrigation. There are patches of forest along the Indus and its tributaries, but most plant life is cultivated –rice, wheat and other grains, cotton and sugar cane; orchards of tropical fruit; plantation of acacia, mulberry, eucalyptus and other trees for fuel and timber.
Most impressive among wildlife are the birds, both migratory and local. Pakistan lies on a major migration route from Central Asia and Siberia. Local species include hoopoe, partridge, pheasant, ducks and geese. The Indus in Sind harbours a unique species of blind freshwater dolphin.
Of the four-legged kind there are black buck and other deer, gazelles, urial (a kind of wild sheep)and the Sind ibex (a wild goat), plus wild cats, boar and otters. Domesticated animals include buffalo (for milk and as draught animals), camels, donkeys and horses.
National parks are at Kirthar, north of Karachi, and Lal Suhanra, near Bahawalpur in the Punjab. Kirthar is presently too dangerous to visit with out heavily armed protection.
Baluchistan & the Western Mountains
Vegetation in the Kirthar and Suleiman ranges (in tribal lands of Baluchistan and the NWFP respectively) and the Salt Range is mostly scrub. Wildlife includes gazelles, urial, Sind ibex, markhor (a wild goat), hyaena, wolf, fox desert cats and porcupines. The Chiltan Hazarganji National Park is 20 km south-west of Quetta.
Temperate Mountain Forests
The forests of southern Chitral, Swat, Hazara and northern Azad Kashmir include oak, chestnut and eucalyptus (and acacia and other plantations for fodder and flood control) in their lower reaches. Higher up are pine, spruce, juniper, deodar (India cedar), birch and willow trees – plus violets, poppies, columbines, forget-me-nots, mallows, geraniums and other wildflowers in spring.
Domestic crop include wheat and maize; orchard of apricots, peaches, apples, mulberries and other fruit, as well as walnuts; erosion control.
Wild animals include Himalaya black bear, brown bear, wild cats, monkeys, porcupines and wild boar. Some cattle are kept, and goats and sheep are driven into higher valleys in summer.
Alpine & Higher Zones
Near and above the tree line (save for occasional dwarf juniper) in northern Chitral, Swat, Kohistan, the Gilgit basin and Hunza Gojal, alpine flowers abound in spring.
Wildlife at these elevations is Pakistan’s richest, though many species have been hunted almost to extinction – snow leopard, Himalaya ibex and markhor (wild goats that figure in the region’s oldest legends),wild sheep including the big-horn Marco Polo sheep, musk deer and black bear. Other residents are urial, Himalaya marmot, brown bear, wolf marmot, brown bear, wolf, marten, ermine and Lynx. In the air are hawks, falcons, eagles and at least four varieties of pheasant (two of them, the ram chakor and trapogan, are nearly extinct).
Besides sheep and goats, the main domesticated animals are yaks and a cow-yak hybrid called a dzu.
Refuges include Chitral Gol National Park in Chitral and Khunjerab National Park along the border with China, the latter established in large part to protect the threatened Marco Polo sheep.