"It is said that change is inevitable, and while this may be just true for people living in developed communities, for an underdeveloped country like Pakistan, change is an absolute necessity.
More often than not, the change people realize is in policies, infrastructure, or administration, but the change I realized was in the education sector, which led me to finally introduce a new department for Wildlife Management and a new doctorate-level research stream in Arid Agriculture University, Pakistan.
Having a caring nature and zoological study background, the love for animals and birds was intrinsic to me. And so I felt the need to preserve their health. Living in Islamabad with airplanes wandering the skyline every now and then, I wondered once about the human intervention in birds’ habitat and the consequences borne from it. This thought of mine got extended when I passed by a sign placed near Islamabad International Airport, that mentioned some precautions that had to be taken by the people living near the airport, to avoid birdstrikes. It was at that moment that I wondered about birdstrike or bird hit, basically the bird aircraft strike hazard - a collision between an airborne animal and a moving vehicle, usually an aircraft. A little research on the topic unveiled upon me how this thought of mine has been a subject for years and Pakistan not only lacks its implementation but also the basic study course for this life-critical topic.
Being a Ph.D. student in Wildlife Management, I took up this topic for my Ph.D. research and performed a baseline study to identify hazardous bird species at Islamabad International Airport. In the study, I conducted a habitat survey, identified bird species, analyzed past bird strike data, and evaluated management techniques at Islamabad International Airport. After this data collection, I realized the severity of the issue at hand, which causes an annual loss of about 1.2 billion dollars globally.
Having a research-oriented mind, I decided to pursue my research, managing my role as a mother and a wife along with this passion of mine. On a commonwealth scholarship, I got the chance to work with Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) in York, United Kingdom. This opportunity got me exposure to the latest advancements in this field, and a hands-on experience with the tools used for birdstrike management.
It was at this point that I realized how true it is that paths unfold when dedication uprises. Opportunities started pouring in as I continued studying the topic, because now I knew, more than ever that I had to raise awareness in my country regarding this hazard.
After this, I moved on to Germany and began work in the Biology Section of the Bundeswehr Geoinformation Office giving me insights into bird strike reduction policy used by the German Air Force. Making most out of my stay there, I availed myself the opportunity to work with cutting-edge applications like the BIRDTAM-System and Bird Strike Risk Forecast System.
Finally, after learning as much as I could about how more developed nations are reducing the risk of bird strikes, I made my way back to my homeland. My dedication and passion to get these measures implemented in my homeland met with the challenge of raising awareness as I came back. After loads of presentations and strings pulled by the nature itself, I finally succeeded in pitching the authorities at Pakistan Air Force. Finally after years of research, study and efforts, I got a newfound job at Pakistan Air Force as a Birdstrike consultant.
It was with time, increasing awareness, constant effort, and my newfound role that caught the eye of organizations like Army Aviation and private airlines like Air Sial. I started receiving requests for surveys and runways analysis prior to an airplane flying to reduce the bird-hit probability. This finally was the change I once sought, finally implemented.
Today, I serve as a bird strike hazard management consultant with the Pakistan Air Force, conducting aerial surveys before plane flying and even national events like the Pakistan Day Parade. The work I have done alongside the PAF has served to protect our nation’s most valuable military assets, reducing bird strikes with fighter aircraft by fifty percent. My research and experience led me to have the honor of representing Pakistan in the International Bird Strike Conference held in Cairns, Australia, and being a board member for the South Asia region at the World Bird Strike Association.
Today as I reflect upon my journey, I get awestruck realizing how that one sign, one moment of thought, one realization inculcated in me the passion to bring about a change I never knew I could.
As weird as it may sound, but my life makes me believe that if one wants something strongly enough, nature actually does conspire to make it happen. "
From Afsana: Dr. Sameera Arshad's story conveys the necessity of taking action towards making change, and she expresses how she has driven the change that she continues to aim for. Please continue to support our platform to learn from women like Dr. Sameera Arshad who are bringing change, and if you also have a story to share as a Pakistani woman, please contact us.
Written by Fatima Arshad and Taha Abdullah of Afsana