This wildlife photographer hopes to save Pakistan's dying birds with his lens
Chirping birds, their colourful wings and free flights have always been a cheerful sight on the horizon of Jahanian until a few years ago; these scenes inspired Tariq Hameed Sulemani to pick a camera and capture them in all their glory.
Born and raised in Jahanian, a small town near Multan, to a family of hakeems (alternative medicine practitioners), he would spend hours tracking wildlife in lush green fields and the canal around his hometown.
Moved by the beauty of nature, he would frequently go to Gilgit-Baltistan for hiking and tracking.
“I had an ordinary point-and-shoot camera, which I would put in my backpack before starting a track,” he recalls the old days. “Over time, I realised the importance of shooting the mesmerising scenic beauty."
He eventually bought professional equipment, with which photography turned from casual hobby to full-time passion. With 12 solo shows in various countries, including the UK, Sweden, the US, Czech Republic, Oman and a couple of shows in Pakistan to his credit, Mr Sulemani has been practising photography for more than a decade.
His exhibitions have worked like an ambassador for the country, for several western photographers, inspired by his works, have visited Pakistan.
“They (Western people) treat us like artists, but here in Pakistan we have no copyrights protection, no acknowledgement or earning from creative photography,” he says.
Mr Sulemani has volunteered to teach photography to local aspirants and trained a group of 16 people. The group includes three poachers, who now shoot footage of wildlife scenes with cameras, not the wildlife with guns.
He regularly organises photography events on non-commercial basis in Jahanian.
"Western people treat us like artists, but here in Pakistan we have no copyrights protection, no acknowledgement or earning from creative photography."
“Jahanian was once known for my grandfather Hakeem Abdullah Rori Wala, who wrote numerous books on hikmat, which are part of the syllabus at Tibbia colleges. Now it is known for our photography activities, participated by youngsters and contemporary professionals from all over Pakistan. In few of events, more than 250 photographers joined in to make the biggest photo walk of Pakistan,” he explains the emerging trends of photography in his town.
He has travelled to almost every corner of Pakistan, except for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Balochistan, to capture landscapes, portraits and wildlife. He has a good collections of photographs of shepherds, who migrate to Multan every year from Balochistan, walking with their families and livestock.
For the last six years, birds have been his prime focus. He has captured some stunningly beautiful shots of migratory birds in his neighbourhood, which are rarely seen in south Punjab.
“Though it is tough to wait for hours for a single click, the work is very close to my heart and easy to manage as compared to traveling for portraits and landscapes,” he goes on.
He has serious concerns about rapidly vanishing birds in Pakistan.
“In big cities like Lahore, we are disturbing the natural balance by feeding crows and kites in the name of ‘sadqa’. They are growing in big numbers and are killing numerous small species by eating their eggs.
“Use of pesticides in rural areas has eliminated a majority of birds. Farmers would dispose of empty bottles of pesticides in ponds and irrigated fields. I have seen hundreds of birds killed due to poisonous water, ” he says.
The Wild Life Department is helpless with no powers and equipment to stop illegal hunting. The local influential people, bureaucrats and army officers are killing 80 per cent of the migratory birds every year, and we are the most hostile country towards wildlife.
“Approximately, 2,000 bare-headed geese used to come from Alaska every year after crossing Himalayan range. Majority is killed at Head Marala on the day they arrive. I counted up to 2,200 rounds fired at them in a single day and have seen hunters going back with van-loads of slaughtered birds. It's unfortunate that those who are supposed to guard are ruthlessly killing them. Birds are our guests, who come here to add to the beauty of our homeland after flying thousands of kilometres distance. This brutality must be stopped,” he concludes.
Originally published in Dawn, October 8th, 2017