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Flights of fancy: The golden eagle that flew over Naltar’s nest

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GILGIT: From Saladin to the Nazis, the golden eagle has been used to stir up nationalism, to herald swiftness and physical prowess and to symbolise the protector.

HunzaNews, December 30th, 2014.

In Naltar,  Gilgit-Baltistan, the Asian Golden Eagle’s emergence after two decades has brought with it hope that better climate conditions prevail and fear—rooted in local lore—of a predator which can swoop down and snatch the unsuspecting.

When it dropped from the skies almost twenty years ago, it was believed food scarcity caused by climate change caused the disappearance of one of the largest birds of prey in the world and hands down, one of the biggest feathered residents of G-B.

The Asian Golden Eagle is one of the largest, fastest and nimblest raptors found in the azure skies hanging over the Himalayas. Its gold feathers gleam on behind its crown and ring its nape but its true power lies in its bill which on average can measure up to 2.5 inches, formidable talons and a wingspan that can stretch up to eight glorious feet.

“It is back in the valley well after two decades,” Mujahid Ali Shah, a Nagar schoolteacher toldThe Express Tribune on Monday. “The disappearance of this species was triggered by the overall climate change that affected this region,” said Shah, who studied landscape ecology at the University of Greifswald.

Silence of the lambs

The emergence of the eagle was first reported by a shepherd, Muhammad, after the bird reportedly preyed on his lambs this month in Nagar.

According to the shepherd, the winged giant bird has taken six lambs this month when he took them to mountains for grazing.

“I’ve lost six of my lambs to the giant eagle this month,” Muhammad was quoted as saying. “It just dropped with astonishing speed and grabbed the lambs, lifting them away without giving them any time to react.”

Golden eagles maintain home ranges or territories as large as 200 square kilometres. They build large nests in high places (mainly cliffs) to which they may return for several breeding years. The birds are known to be monogamous and pairs keep together for several years if not for life.

The boy who flew with eagles

There are various myths and local lore associated with the giant bird in Nagar Valley, mostly about its ability to make away with little ones.

“It was some 35 years ago when my two-year-old son almost became a prey to the eagle,” narrated Safia, 70, who lives in Phakar village in Nagar.

She claims the boy was playing in an open field in the village when a golden eagle came down low, hovering over him. “Realizing the threat, I took my boy near the house and thought he was safe. But to my surprise the bird was following him. I immediately covered him in my arms and took him inside.” People say mothers in Naltar were so scared of their children being whisked away by the golden eagle that they would keep them indoors all throughout the month of December, which is considered to be ‘prey season’.

On the wings of a golden bird

The return of the bird is also considered good news. It heralds better environmental conditions for the region, however, there is little other evidence to make that claim.

“The good news is the return of the bird means the environment is improving as the bird can return only in a clean environment,” claimed Shah.  “But the bad news is the growing fear among mothers as well as farmers with respect to the safety of kids and then the livestock.”

An assistant professor in Karakoram University, Muhammad Zafar, says though the golden eagle is listed in the IUCN Red list of Endangered Species, it is not under threat of extinction as such. The IUCN site outs the species under the category of ‘Least Concern’. “It’s not threatened but let me say its return is reflective of the healthy environment that the valley certainly has.”


Express Tribune

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