Incompetent 'conservationists'...

Conservation status of the critically endangered and endangered species in the Nandiar Khuwar catchment District Battagram, Pakistan [Western Himalaya] by Faiz Ul Haq (see: published in the grand sounding 'International Journal of Biodiversity & Conservation', part of the extraordinary number of journals.  I wonder how much it costs to have an article published? I am suspicious about their peer-reviewing process! I am not alone is my concerns, see: and  Importan tissues about 'open-access' are raised.

This article in a prime example of the complete and utter lack of understanding of basic principles of plant ecology and plant conservation. The author, like vast number of assorted so-called scientists in the Indian sub-continent, have not a clue about what 'critically' endangered or 'endangered' actually mean.  Yet the international bodies blindly accept false submissions...

It beggars belief that the article is based on interviews with 'local' people - who are not scientists!!

The article covers 37 species including 14 supposedly 'critically' endangered and 23 'endangered'.  The author says that the district's flora is placed within the Western Himalayan Province, located on the western edge of the Himalaya.  270 local people were surveyed as to threats to the flora from loss of habitat, unplanned collection, deforestation, over-grazing, erosion, attacks of pathogens and impact of introduced plants (not that the author seems to understand that several of the species covered are not indigenous being introduced themselves, so it is farcical to include them).

It is rather amusing that in the introduction to this article, it states, "In order to determine the conservation status of a taxon, it is necessary to determine the fluctuation in its population size, the area that it occupies and to maintain long-lasting observation. Such studies have never been done in Pakistan" - and still had not after completion of his 'surveys'.  IF this is the case (which is correct and the same applies in India) then how can any botanist or conservationist claim ANY species is 'Endangered' let alone 'Critically Endangered' in Pakistan or India?  The areas requiring in-depth surveys are vast, particularly in mountainous regions such as the Himalaya.  Bearing in mind there are only a strictly limited number of professional botanists in these countries, few who can reliably identify plants, seldom undertaking surveys anyhow.  One cannot accurately assess how abundant or rare a plant species is in an office.   The UK, relatively small in size, with much smaller scale mountains, a flora with a fraction of the number of species found in Pakistan or India and large numbers of volunteer amateur botanists (of a professional standard) have been able to survey to a depth which is not feasible in the Himalaya.  Thus, there is a need to be cautious about claims of rarity.  The truth is, nobody actually knows which species are genuinely rare or endangered!

Within the article, the author acknowledges that studies on the conservation status of plant species are limited and data variable.  With Pakistan authors claiming between 580 (1991) and 709 (1991) species as "threatened" or "threatened and endangered".  Whereas the IUCN listed just 14 species of flowering plants as 'threatened' in Pakistan (1998).  It is clear which is a more realistic figure....

The problem is that others reading articles like this one, which only refer to findings (can they be trusted anyhow) in a strictly limited geographic district, which are then extrapolated with the FALSE assertion that the findings of being 'endangered' or 'critically endangered' refer to the whole of a country or region. They patently do not!  Such claims might SOUND impressive and aid the article being published (as does claims of species being "endemic") but it is increasingly clear to me that the surveys involved are fundamentally flawed.   Publishing FALSE information misleads and when the species concerned are actually under NO THREAT WHATSOEVER and in some cases widespread and abundant or not even native, the situation is unacceptable and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, at the highest levels.  I cannot do this but am obliged to expose these unscientific claims.

It appears that the authors of these article do not understand that unless a species is found all over the world in every country, habitat, altitude etc., it will have a limited occurrence in some parts of its range - this is basic ecology.  At the limits of its range, whether geographic, climatic, altitudinal or whatever, all species will be rare and reach the point at which it is no longer found - which to those without suitable training might interpret as being 'endangered' or 'critically endangered'.  A plant typically found in moist forests on the southern slopes of the main Himalaya, will become increasing less common as one heads over the Great Himalaya into the borderlands of Tibet.  An example is the 'Himalayan May-Apple' (Podophyllum hexandrum) which is uncommon in districts such as Lahoul and Ladakh.  In Ladakh e.g. it is restricted to such parts as Suru Valley and Zanskar, which receive more rain and even then, often only existing thanks to the shade and protection of boulders.   I know of no colonies of this species in the main, much drier, more exposed Upper Indus Valley - thus it is 'extinct' in such places.   For people to suggest its 'rarity' in such places is an indication of it being 'critically' endangered, "as a whole", is to misunderstand scientific principles and the basics of plant geography!   Yes, such people are taken seriously.   Just as their false claims about cultivation of supposedly 'endangered' species utilised in Tibetan Medicine.  I would like to know just how growing a species which is not native to a district in the borderlands of Tibet can possibly help protect 'wild' populations?   After all it is not a wild plant!!!

This article is, apparently, based upon surveys undertaken in different parts of Nandiar Khuwar over a 2 year period - based on observations of local residents, not scientists. I am at a loss to explain how a survey over such a short period - no matter how intense and accurate it may or may not have been, entitle the author to use IUCN Criteria to assess conservation status.  And even if a proper survey had happened over a longer time period, the results only apply to a strictly limited area i.e. Nandiar Khuwar, not Pakistan as a whole, let alone the Western Himalaya.  Yet this sort of inadequate survey is widely used to assign 'Endangered' or 'Critically Endangered' status in Pakistan and India.  It is FALSE and MISLEADING to extrapolate, yet this is typical of what happens.  Then, based upon one or two such utterly flawed articles, others blindly copy the claims, suggesting these species are under threat.  This has even led to submission and acceptance of Himalayan species under CITES Appendices.  This is seriously wrong - FALSE.   The truth is, nobody actually knows which species are genuinely 'rare & endangered' in Pakistan or India.  As for those species 'selected' as being under threat, the vast majority under no threat - some are in fact widespread and abundant, making a mockery of the whole process in India & Pakistan - certainly as far as the Western Himalaya is concerned (I am not familiar with sub-tropical or tropical flora in the region, so cannot comment about these).   For evidence, see:

Let me go through each species covered by this article:

1. Acer caesium - this tree is collected by locals for fuel, timber and fodder (as it surely would have been for centuries).  Apparently the population size had been reduced by 86% (according to the local people - yet how could they possible tell to this level of accuracy), meeting Criteria A of a Critically Endangered species - yet even if the 'evidence' is correct, this tree remains widespread and abundant in other parts of the Western Himalaya, so to include it is FALSE.

2. Pistacia integerrima - this tree, which is collected for fuel and medicinal purposes, was prominent in the spring thanks to its red new leaves, during the botanical tour of Pakistan in 1987, is widespread, mostly in N.Pakistan @ 700-2100m. I am sceptical that it is in any way under threat in Pakistan as a whole. Its inclusion in 'Flowers of the Himalaya' (which covers common plants) where it is named as PISTACHIA CHINENSIS subsp. INTEGERRIMA, where a distribution of Afghanistan to West Nepal is given, hardly suggests it is under any threat. Apparently. the population size has reduced by 93% (amazingly accurate surveyors these people are), meeting Criteria A of a Critically Endangered species but as with the previous species, to claim so is FALSE.  

3. Rhus javanica - I am uncertain to which species the author refers, as Stewart in 'An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Pakistan & Kashmir' does not list this!   So I cannot comment further, beyond my suspicion that it is not a native species....

4. Trachelospermum lucidum - this climber grows on cliffs, in hedges or among bushes @ 600-1800m. Apparently due to loss of habitat and reduction of population size of 66% this falls under Criteria A of Endangered category.  Even if the results were accurate, they would only apply to this one district.  The species is found from Pakistan to Bhutan and its inclusion in 'Flowers of the Himalaya' (which covers common plants) hardly suggests it is under any threat.  FALSE claim.

5. Asparagus officinalis - surely the author cannot be serious?  This is the 'Garden' Asparagus!!!  There are several Asparagus species in Pakistan, so presumably he has misidentified it?

6. Picris hieracioides - again, surely the author is not serious?  Apparently its population size has fallen by 60% (which would be a good thing if it was correct) bringing it under the 'Endangered' category, affected by loss of habitat thanks to the introduction of other species.  Known as 'Hawkweed Ox-tongue' in the UK, this plant is very common, weedy (with numerous small prickles on its stems) in Pakistan from 1700-4000m.  Clearly under no threat whatsoever!  FALSE claim.

7.  Betula  utilis - this tree is collected by locals for fuel, fodder, paper-making and medicinal purposes, its population size has reduced by 98% (which is a quite remarkable figure if accurate) supposedly making it 'Critically' Endangered.   I am sceptical about these figures, since it can be found on very  steep slopes and inaccessible cliffs but just for argument sake, let us accept the figures, they only apply to a small district.  This tree, the 'Himalayan Birch' remains abundant (and the authors in Example 2 below even comment that how healthy its population is in Kinnaur) throughout the Himalaya.  To suggest it is Critically Endangered in Pakistan or the Himalaya as a whole is a farce.  FALSE clim.

8.  Ehretia serrata - only 240 mature individuals were found (no indication was given as to saplings/regeneration, which surely is crucial to understand its status) of this tree belong to the Boraginaceae family found widely in N.Pakistan and Kashmir, through to Nepal and Bhutan.  The reduction (strangely enough, no %age reduction is given in this case) is due to collection of wood for fuel and timber.  The number of mature individuals makes it endangered.  This might be the case (not that I have ever surveyed tree numbers or know whether this represents a reasonable number or not), I do not know populations sizes elsewhere in the Himalaya (or other parts of the world where this is found) so impossible to meaningfully assess its status.

9.  Opuntia dillenii - presumably, the author does not realise that ALL members of Cactaceae are NOT indigenous (some being very old introductions, frequently planted to make hedges or as specimens in pots or gardens).  This species is commonly used in the plains as a hedge plant.  Dr Stewart, author of 'Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Pakistan & Kashmir' had a fine hedge of it in Rawalpindi until it was destroyed by a cochineal insect.  So what does it matter that an escape from cultivation is restricted in its distribution or its population has been reduced by 90%.  To waste time suggesting that an introduced, presumably somewhat invasive 'weed' is 'Critically Endangered' (due to loss of habitat, being uprooted by farmers, impact of introduced plants (perhaps other Opuntias!!!) and attacks of pathogens, shows a complete lack of basic understanding of botany!  FALSE and PREPOSTEROUS.

10.  Bauhinia  variegata - only 230 mature specimens were observed, making it 'Endangered'.  This tree has long had its leaves cut for fodder; the flowers are eaten and pickled, bark used for dyeing, tanning & medicinally, the wood for building and implements.  It is found in forests and planted in villages to 1800m from Pakistan to Bhutan, India, Myanamah & China.  In Pakistan it is much planted by gardens and by roadsides in Sind, Baluchistan and Punjab.   So the suggestion it is in any way 'endangered' is downright silly! FALSE.

11.  Cornus macrophylla - only 47 mature individuals were found (again, now mention about regeneration/young plants) being collected for fuel and timber. This tree is common in mixed forest in Hazara and recorded from other parts of N.Pakistan and through to Bhutan, Assam, Myanamar, China and Japan.  Now named as SWIDA MACROPHYLLA.  Even if it is under threat in Nandia Khuwar, there seems little to suggest it is endangered elsewhere.

12.  Dioscorea  deltoidea - apparently the population size of this climber has reduced by 68% falling under endangered category (does even make 'critically' endangered which has been suggested elsewhere).  the main causes being loss of habitat, collection for medicinal usage and as a fish poison.   I have commented upon this species elsewhere.  It is doubtful that this plant is under serious threat overall, even though it populations in certain districts may well have reduced, even significantly so.

13.  Rhododendron arboreum - apparently reduced in size by 69% due to collection for fuel and medicinal purposes - in most places local people have destroyed suitable habitat.  It may be that the 'Tree Rhododendron' has a reduced population in certain districts but overall, this widespread and abundant species, found the length of the Himalaya, is under any threat. FALSE.

14.  Glochidion velutinum - a total of 198 mature individuals this member of the Euphorbiaceae were found in Pinus roxburghii forests along roadsides and stream banks. The reduction was due to collection for fuel and loss of habitat. Apparently the small population size means it is 'endangered'.  But it is common in such forests on dry hills from Swat eastwards to 1500m.   Doubtful if it is under any serious threat overall.

15.  Quercus  glauca - 230 mature individuals were restricted to an area covering square km, apparently making it 'critically' endangered. This tree is collected for fuel and fodder.  Whilst this is the least common of Oaks in Pakistan, sometimes found in moist valleys, I cannot but wonder if it has declined that much overall from Hazara eastwards at 700-1800m?   Given the difficult correct identification of oaks present, I doubt its distribution is fully known.   So yes, it is not that common or gregarious but who has surveyed all the promising ravines to 3000m from Pakistan to SW China also in Japan and S.E.Asia?

16.  Quercus  semecarpifolia - apparently the population size has reduced by 68% due to collection for fuel and agricultural instruments.  I question that it is in any way endangered overall, as known to be common in parts of N.Pakistan, recorded as gregarious and common, sometimes dominant up to the upper tree-line @ 2100-3800m from Afghanistan to SW China.   FALSE.

17.  Aesculus indica - only 149 mature individuals in restricted area, so 'endangered'.  The reduction in number due to collection of wood for fuel, timber incl. making tools for home and agriculture.  Known to be common in mesophytic forest @ 2100-3000m.  I do not have any evidence to suggest that the 'Indian Horse Chestnut' is seriously under threat in forests & shady ravives @ 1800-3000m from Afghanistan to Central Nepal. FALSE.

18.   Colebrookia  oppositifolia - apparently a 61% reduction in population size, making it 'endangered'.  Known to be common in parts of Pakistan, ascending to 1500m.  No suggestion it is under any serious threat overall. Included in Supplement to 'Flowers of the Himalaya' which says it often grows gregariously from Pakistan to SW China also in India and S.E.Asia.  FALSE.

19.  Notholirion  thomsonianum - apparently a 58% reduction in population size thus 'endangered' due to over grazing and loss of habitat.  The 'Hazara Lily' is known to be common in parts of Pakistan and Kashmir to 1500m.  'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it from fields & rocky slopes from Afghanistan to Uttaranachal.   I do not have evidence to suggest this is under serious threat.

20.  Viscum  album - recorded as an epiphyte on Ulmus wallichiana; as only 24 mature specimens of this tree was found of which 9 had the mistletoe, the loss of a host means this is 'critically endangered'.   Mistletoes, though especially found on certain trees, they are by no means restricted to one species.  It is known to be common in the Kashmir Valley, especially on walnuts.  Found in many districts in N.Pakistan, distributed from Afghanistan to Central Nepal @ 1000-2700m.  No evidence to suggest this plants is seriously endangered overall. FALSE.

21.   Cissampelos  parerira - apparently a 69% reduction in population size making it endangered due to loss of habitat and the impact of introduced plants.  This member of the Mensipermaceae family is known from various parts of N.Pakistan, ascending to 1500m.  I wonder how many botanists can reliably identify this species.  I suspect the distribution of this undistinguished climber is not fully known in the Himalayan foothills - a pantropical species.

22.  Cephalanthera longifolia - apparently a reduction in population size of 67% due to medicinal collection and loss of habitat due to over grazing meaning it is endangered. Recorded from many parts of N.Pakistan; the only orchid at the hill-station of Murree before the rains.  'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it from forests in drier country @ 1800-3000m from Afghanistan to SE Tibet, W&N Asia, Japan, Europe even N.Africa @ 1800-3000m.  Clearly, there is nothing to suggest that 'Narrow-leaved Helleborine' is under any serious threat - bearing in mind orchid populations are known to fluctuate. FALSE.

23.  Paeonia  emodi - apparently population reduced by 81% making it critically endangered - it is collected for medicinal use. The 'Himalayan Peony' is commonly gregarious on open hillsides in many parts of N.Pakistan & Kashmir.  'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it from Afghanistan to W.Nepal in forests, shrubberies @ 1800-2500m. FALSE.

24.  Cedrus deodara - population size reduction by 98% as only 3 mature trees were found due to collection for fuel, timber and medicinal uses making it 'critically' endangered. Stewart considered 'Deodar' was often planted, only wild in a few places. It forms forests from Afghanistan to West Nepal @ 1800-3000m.   Yes, there will be places where colonies have largely been destroyed but nothing to suggest it is endangered, let alone 'critically' so overall.  FALSE.

25.  Podophyllum  hexandrum - population size has reduced by 68% making it 'endangered' due to medicinal collection and loss of habitat.
I have commented about this species elsewhere on this web-site.  It probably remains common in thin forest and open slopes from Afghanistan to SW China @ 2400-4500m.  As explained, the inclusion under CITES is not justified.  FALSE.

26.  Crataegus  songarica  - 242 mature specimens making it locally endangered used locally for fuel.  A common hawthorn especially in Kashmir & Chenab Valley in cultivated areas from Afghanistan to Uttaranachal @ 1500-2700m.  Nothing to suggest it is endangered overall.

27.  Filipendula  vestita  - apparently population reduced by 65% due to over-grazing and loss of habitat meaning 'endangered'.  The Himalayan Meadowsweet is common in damp meadows in many parts of N.Pakistan.  included in 'Flowers of the Himalaya' (which covers common species) in forests and damp places @ 2100-3300m from Afghanistan to W.Nepal.  Nothing to suggest this plant is under threat.  FALSE.

28.  Potentilla sericophylla  - only found in a single location in rock crevices in a 4 square km area making it 'critically' endangered.  Potentilla is a large genus with quite a number of species difficult to identify, so the author has done well to recognise this one.  Stewart records it from a number of locations in N.Pakistan & Kashmir @ 2400-2700m.  Interesting that the author found it 400m higher than any Stewart records. 

29.  Prunus  padus - population size has reduced by 64% making this tree 'endangered' due to collection for fuel and timber. The 'Himalayan Bird Cherry' is one of Pakistan's largest and commonest trees.  'Flowers of the Himalaya' describe it as common in forests @ 2100-3500m from Afghanistan to SW China.  Nothing to suggest this is in any way threatened overall.

30.  Skimmia laureola  - the correct name for this is SKIMMIA ANQUETILIA; its population size has reduced by 81% due to medicinal collection & loss of habitat meaning it is 'critically' endangered.  Yet this is very common in the undergrowth of fir forests in N.Pakistan & Kashmir. 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it from forests, shrubberies and shady places @ 2400-4000m from Afghanistan to W.Nepal.  Nothing to suggest this plant is in any way under threat, let alone 'critically' endangered.  FALSE.

31.  Populus  alba - restricted to an area of 3 square km making it critically endangered; collected for fuel, timber and medicinally.  The correct name for this seems to be POPULUS CASPICA.  Stewart records this from many places in N.Pakistan, finding it common in Kashmir.  'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it from Afghanistan to Himachal Pradesh, a native which is also planted @ 1200-3000m.  Nothing to suggest this poplar is under any threat.

32.  Salix  babylonica - 196 mature specimens were observed making it 'endangered'.  This is the 'Weeping Willow' - widely planted as an ornamental to 2000m in Pakistan - what on earth does it matter about the populations of non-native trees!  Ridiculous.

33.  Withania somnifera - population size reduced by 67% due to medicinal collection and loss of habitat thus being endangered.  Stewart records this from many parts of Pakistan, rarely ascending to 1500m.  The identification of many genera within the Scrophulariaceae family is often difficult, so I doubt if the distribution of this species is fully known.  Stewart considered it to like W,coagulata to be a common shrub in desert areas but more likely to be about houses.   Nothing to suggest this plant is in any way threatened.

34.    Taxus  baccata subsp.  wallichiana  - has shown an 87% reduction in population, so is thus 'critically' endangered. - used for fuel, medicinal purposes and timber in graves. Do not understand why this tree was not counted in terms of number of mature specimens - perhaps there were too many?  Stewart found this in mixed forest, not gregarious as a rule over much of N.Pakistan & Kashmir.  'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it in forests & shady ravines, usually in the understory @ 2100-3400m from Afghanistan to SW China, Myanamar & S.E. Asia.  Nothing to indicate it is 'critically' endangered, though clearly collected heavily in some areas.

35.  Grewia  optiva - reduced population size of 69% making it 'endangered' due to collection for fuel and timber plus habitat loss.  Stewart found this small tree to be the commonest wild Grewia recorded from many places in Pakistan.  The Supplement to 'Flowers of the Himalaya' gives a distribution of Pakistan to Sikkim ascending to 1800m.  Nothing to suggest this tree is under serious threat.

36.  Ulmus  wallichiana  - only 24 mature specimens making it 'critically' endangered due to collection for fuel, timber, tools for use in households, loss of habitat and "change in environment" (whatever this is meant to mean); most trees are found in graveyards, just a few in paddy fields and nullahs. Stewart noted the 'Big Leaved Elm' in much of N.Pakistan in moist ravines and broadleaved forest.  'Flowers of the Himalaya' records this in broad-leaved forests and moist ravines @ 1800-3000m from Afghanistan to W.Nepal.  Extensive surveys are required to meaningfully assess its distribution and abundance.

37.  Viola  canescens  - a 64% reduction in population size means it is 'endangered' due to medicinal collection and loss of habitat.  Stewart recorded this from many places in N.Pakistan, finding it to be common in Kashmir.  'Flowers of the Himalaya' found it in shrubberies and on shady banks @ 1500-2400m from Kashmir to Bhutan (for some reason missing out Pakistan).  Nothing to suggest this violet is in any way endangered.  FALSE.

I found it hard to work out just how the author arrived at such exact %ages as for "reduction in population size"?  Nor does he reveal over what time period the decline occurred.  As it would be impossible for local people to estimated actual %age loss of populations of individual species and as the author states that information about 'critically endangered' and 'endangered' species was collected from the 270 local people, I am beginning to suspect this is how he arrived at the figures i.e. the number of locals who said they considered populations had reduced!  But he cannot have?   But how else?  

The author also seems to have misunderstood how to determine whether a species is considered 'endangered' or 'critically' endangered according to IUCN rules.   By proclaiming so many species are 'endangered' it seem others accept this applies to the species in the whole of its range.   This has led to a proliferation of articles about 'endangered' and 'critically endangered' - and let us not forget that 'critically' endangered infers the species is in imminent danger of becoming extinct.   Whoever makes such claims is not just being misleading but present FALSE unscientific evidence which is completely flawed - yet these findings are blindly accepted and repeated.   I do not know who sits on the panels which accept submissions for the CITES Appendices but they clearly do not understand how poorly the flora of the Western Himalaya is know.  How can they possibly imagine such a vast mountainous region has been properly surveyed.   And what of the botanists who compiled the data which were submitted, do they not realise their claims cannot be substantiated.