Pakistan hunts poachers of endangered national animal

Police in Pakistan are seeking nine men who illegally killed an endangered markhor goat in a national park, officials said Tuesday.

A police case has been registered against the hunters after they killed the markhor in the Chitral Gol National Park in northern Pakistan, close to the Afghan border on Monday, wildlife officials said.

The markhor, a large species of wild mountain goat noted for its huge corkscrew horns that can grow up to 1.5 metres (five feet) in length, is Pakistan's national animal.

The hunters escaped after they were challenged by park rangers, who managed to recover the animal's head and hide.

"We've some idea who the hunters are... my staff knew them and they will be identified if seen around. They could not be apprehended at the spot as they were fully equipped with lethal weapons," senior wildlife official for Chitral, Mohammad Shakil, told AFP.

Conservation efforts have helped the animal make a comeback in recent years after numbers dwindled in the 1970s, but it is still listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) "red list" of threatened species.

There are thought to be just 200 markhor in Chitral Gol, according to the IUCN, and fewer than 2,500 in total in the world. The population is spread over the mountains of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Pakistan issues a limited number of "trophy hunting" permits for the markhor each year, at a price of $95,000, but hunting is strictly forbidden in national parks.