His Way of Preserving Wildlife…. Documenting it All Through His Camera Lens





While quite a few local and international organizations like WWF-Pakistan and IUCN are actively working towards the preservation of wildlife in Pakistan, there are others who have their own unique way of supporting the cause in a manner that educates and creates awareness at a mass level. Yes, we are talking about individuals like Ali Ijaz – an award winning wildlife film-maker who has been bringing forward unique and unknown or rather misunderstood species since the last six years now; species that are actually an integral part of our eco-system.

Here’s what Ali shared about some of his enriching experiences in the land of the wild and beyond…


Let me pester you with the usual one to begin with: Kya ap ko bachpan se hi shauq tha?

My father being a veterinary doctor was pursuing his PhD from the University of Minnesota back in the late 80s.  I used to sometimes accompany him to his late night lab visits, which housed a variety of interesting lab animals. I was only 6 years old at that time. But what really caught my fancy were the majestic birds of prey that could be seen across a huge glass window at the Raptor Center which was in the same building as the lab my father worked in. Housed in the Raptor Center aviary was a bald eagle, snowy owl and great horned owl, all top predators, extremely beautiful and elegant birds, I remember looking at them in awe, with their massive wingspan as they flew across the aviary.

Trips to natural history museum in Minnesota left me fascinated and got me interested in dinosaurs, wildlife and nature, and then a TV show called “Wild America” really inspired me as well in my childhood.

I started taking interest in wildlife books at my local library and drew and sketched my favorite animals. My love for wildlife and nature just grew from there.

It is when I came to Pakistan that I realized that we didn’t have any books or TV shows about the wildlife in Pakistan. As I grew older I started reading research papers about our own wildlife and was fascinated to find out that we still have some amazing wildlife that not many people in Pakistan are aware of.

I was studying to become a veterinary doctor when I came across the opportunity to switch my career path. I dropped out of vet school after a year and got admission in the first Film and Television degree program at the National College of Arts in Lahore. I knew I wanted to make documentaries and they were going to be about Pakistan and its amazing wildlife.


In this photograph taken on September 13, 2014, a blind dolphin swims along the Indus river in the southern Pakistani city of Sukkur. AFP PHOTO / Rizwan TABASSUM

What was it like to be at NCA? How did it shape up your outlook towards life to what it is like today? And how did it play a role in pushing you in the direction you see yourself going lately?

I believe my time in NCA really shaped me into the filmmaker that I am today, unconsciously on many levels. It wasn’t about the tools; it was what we did with our tools and why we wanted to do it. My German script writing professor Wolfgang Laengsfeld always emphasized on the importance of story telling, for him all the tools at our disposal as a filmmaker had only one purpose, to help us tell a good story. My Urdu Professor Arifa Zehra Syeda hammered into me the importance of our culture and history, elements of which I always incorporate in my documentaries, which help me connect with my audience.  While my documentary professor Shireen Pasha, inspired us with her passion and field knowledge, demonstrating to us the importance of good research and how to get the job done in the field despite the odds and never giving up.

Brown Bear

You received several prestigious awards for your documentary – Missing Vultures, including the WWF- Living Planet Award.  How long did it take for you to film it and the biggest platform in your view where it has been screened at is? What are the challenges you faced with this project in particular?

“Missing Vultures” took me about 8 months to film. The filming was scattered across Punjab and took me to Nagar Parkar and Karachi as well. The challenge was that that vulture had disappeared!!! There was no vulture that I could film! Once found in the millions across Pakistan, they even roosted on the tall trees in at the Lahore Zoo. I remember them being part of the Lahore skyline with their distinct large wing span, circling above the kites. They were a part of everyone’s collective memory and no one believed that they had disappeared, every time I told them I was making a documentary on vultures. They still thought if I went to the country side I would still spot them as they remembered seeing so many of them as children.  Everyone had a story to tell of how they would run after the clumsy birds as they would take a very long run before they could become airborne. No one paid any attention to them and it was inconceivable for people to imagine that the vultures could disappear. I finally found vultures in the wild when I went to Nagar Parkar. It was such a joy to see them and finally film them in the wild.

To name a few the documentaries was screened and nominated for the Golden Panda Award at the Sichuan TV Festival in China, screened at Vaasa Wildlife Film Festival in Finland and won the best documentary award at the Alpavirama Film Festival in India.


And then there is ‘Pangolins in Peril, A story of rare scales” that won you “Wildlife Activism Award” 2016 at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, New York among other such international acclaims. We hear from our sources how this film is close to your heart. How did the pangolins happen to you or vice versa? And the kind of dedication and efforts gone in there…?

The pangolin is a little known and misunderstood animal that is being hunted to the brink of extinction not only in Pakistan but also around the world. My documentary helps remove many misconceptions about the animal and shows the struggle of a dedicated wildlife guard trying to protect the animal from hunters and poachers.

I wanted to make this documentary because every time I would search the internet for this creature, only a horrific photo or video would show up, of a dead pangolin being lynched by ignorant mobs of people who would kill it thinking it was a dangerous monster. I wanted to film this beautiful animal in all its glory in its natural habitat in Pakistan. It took me a year of research and unsuccessful field trips to Azad Kashmir, (one of my research areas was on stretch of forest and agriculture land right next to the Indian border, that still had old anti- tank mines scattered all over it, thankfully my host/guide only bothered mentioning and showing them to me on the last trip, as we passed by one J and areas around Kalahar Kahar to finally find one and film it.

It also recently won the award for “Scientific Merit” at the Scinema Science Film Festival in Australia and received the best film award in the “Wildlife Conservation” Award at the CMS Vatavaran Film Festival in New Delhi.


Ayubia – The Living Forest (a part of ‘The Leopards Amongst Us) had you befriend a leopard somewhat. Was he a good host to you? Kidding. Tell us more about the intriguing concept behind this film. And of course your stay in and around these dense forests.

The Common Leopard Conservation Project was a very exciting assignment that I worked on with Mr.Nisar Malik from Walkabout Films. “Ayubia- the living forest” was just one of the many short documentaries that showcased various aspects of Ayubia national park and its wildlife, in an attempt to educate the locals about the importance of biodiversity and the need to preserve the forest for our future generations.

The overall project involved documenting the how scientists from WWF-Pakistan were trying to trap and capture a wild leopard in Ayubia national park, so that it could be radio collared and released back into the wild, giving them crucial data about its movement and behavior that would eventually help in its conservation. The leopards’ habitat is being encroached upon by the villages and surrounded populations, which often leads to human leopard conflict. The documentary showed the close and often dangerous interaction that leads to the killing of these wild cats at the hands of the local communities.

Snow Leopord

What is it that animals teach you despite being bezuban that humans don’t?

They make me appreciate the sheer beauty of our planet and how nature is so perfectly balanced and interdependent.

What are you aspiring to work on in the future? Is there a certain rare species in some far off land you long to meet and document?

I intent to document the unexplored natural history of Pakistan before it disappear. This includes many rare reptiles and mammals, such as the marsh crocodile and the black bear that are on the verge of disappearing forever in Pakistan. But I would also like to make documentaries on the more common but wonderful wild animals found in our back yards, such as the mongoose and monitor lizards which we don’t know much about.


What is the level of interest for wildlife documentaries in Pakistan? Is it difficult to get support?

I think our public is really interested in natural history films. The nature programs give them an insight into an animals’ life and they are happy to learn something from it as well.  Even in our villages, people young and old know about national geographic channel, they know about the elephants and lions of Africa….they watch discovery and animals planet even though they don’t understand the narrator…but they are totally able to relate to the visual story telling.

We had lions, tigers, roaming the forests of Pakistan less than 150 years ago. Rhinos were hunted on the outskirts of Peshawar by Baba 15th century. Hunting with captive Cheetahs was common pastime of the Nawabs. Our land had rich diversity of wildlife. We have decimated our forests and hunted most of our wildlife to the brink of extinction.  Urbanization and agricultural expansion has really distanced us from nature.

15 years ago millions of vultures were found all across Pakistan, they could be seen circling the skies in all major cities. They are all gone now, almost at the brink of extinction due to multiple factors but mainly the veterinary drug Diclofenac that was used on livestock.

My documentary on vultures made me realize that people often don’t understand that an animal is gone until it is too late and often don’t know about the significance of preserving that animal.  Our natural history, which includes the flora and fauna of the subcontinent, is also a vital part of our culture. With the demise of a plant or animal species a vital part of culture disappears with it as well, as they disappear from our language, literature and arts.

Animals do not only play an environmental role but a very important cultural role as well. The vulture was a part of many local stories, used as in metaphors to denote greed or ugliness in the Urdu and Punjabi languages etc.

But all is not lost yet. Pakistan still has some amazing wildlife that has managed to survive. The untouched habitats that are biodiversity hotspots need to be preserved and people need to be educated about their significance and importance.

The secretive scaly anteater or Indian Pangolin is one such amazing but misunderstood animal that I documented in my most recent documentary. Many people don’t know it lives in Pakistan and the ones that do know have so many misconceptions about it. They think it is some dangerous reptile and it evokes a sense of fear in them because of its peculiar shape and scales on its body. But it is actually a mammal and a harmless one. But the most important thing to know about this animal is that it lives solely on a diet of ants and termites. With its’ specialized claws and tongue it is able to eat up to 10 million insects a year. It acts as natural pest control in the area it is found in, which benefits us humans as well.

People recently began hunting it because its scales are in demand for the Chinese medicine market. My documentary sheds light on the illegal trade and the passionate and brave people from the Punjab wildlife department who are trying to save the Pangolin from illegal hunters in Pakistan.

We shouldn’t be surprised if people kill animals out of ignorance or cut trees indiscriminately without realizing the consequences. The masses need to be made aware of how preserving nature benefits them and how harming the ecological balance will ultimately harm them as well. We need green spaces not because they look good but because they are vital for our survival.

It’s unfortunate that my wildlife documentaries on Pakistan evoke a greater interest abroad than they do here in Pakistan. What I mean to say is that there are more opportunities/platforms to screen my documentary abroad and thus it has reached out to more people outside Pakistan than within.

I was very fortunate to have my documentary projects funded by WWF Pakistan with their small grants program. The grant had never been used for a documentary project before and Dr. Uzma Khan at WWF was very supportive in helping me get this grant for my first documentary “Missing Vultures”. WWF also helped partially fund my documentary project “Pangolins in Peril- A story of rare scales”.

I have heard that The Daud Foundation is funding wildlife documentaries in Pakistan and it is a great initiative that was much needed. We need more institutions and organizations to open up funding opportunities for filmmakers who are interesting in working on subjects that they feel passionate about.

Asiatic Black Bear

What are the other not so widely known animals in Pakistan you’d like us to be introduced to? Where are they found?

We have the Himalayan Lynx up in the north along with the woolly flying squirrel one of the heaviest flying squirrels in the world. Then we have the beautiful Caracal (also known as the desert lynx) that is found in the grasslands of south Punjab and Sindh, which has never been filmed in Pakistan. We still might have some Cheetahs on the border with Iran in the Chagai.

Kashmiri Gray Langur

How can one as a commoner contribute towards the conservation of Pakistan’s wildlife in your view?

Start observing the little things around you and read – and you will be amazed! Observe that gecko on the wall, how it hunts! Maybe read about how it controls the insect population, read about how it hibernates in the winter and keeps itself alive without eating for half a year. The ordinary becomes the extraordinary once you start observing and learning more about it.

What role can wildlife documentaries play in supporting conservation efforts?

We can’t expect people to help in conservation efforts if they don’t know what we are conserving and why. Documentaries help bridge the knowledge gap. But they need to be interesting and relevant. Filmmakers need to make use of story-telling techniques to awe, evoke emotion and inspire. There is a very basic lack of awareness regarding the wildlife we have in Pakistan. Most people who visit Ayubia or Murree don’t know about the two species of flying squirrels that are found there. They need to be told that they exist here and need to be told why they exist here and how they live, the important role they play in the ecosystem etc. Filmmakers play an important role as they specialize in packaging all the information and research that helps the common man understand and appreciate the conservation efforts being done.

A rare kind of mongoose

If we’re to trace the trail of your films being screened in various cities round the globe, what would those footsteps be like?

Well a few lit up dots on all the continents except Antarctica! I have to tell you that it makes me very proud and somewhat sad too at the same time that I happen to be the only Pakistani filmmaker to be participating in most of these environmental & wildlife film festivals world over.  We need to have more documentary filmmakers representing Pakistan and telling its many wonderful stories to the world.

Lastly, what’s your absolute happy place like?

Wilderness, surrounded by nature and everything wild!

To watch his films, go to: vimeo.com/aliijaz