Royals hunt endangered bird in Pakistan despite local opposition
KARACHI, Pakistan – Anadolu Agency
Arab royals are continuing to hunt the houbara bustard, an endangered migratory bird, in different parts of Pakistan despite strong opposition from at least two provincial governments, according to officials and local Pakistani media reports.
The central government, which considers issuing hunting licenses to Arab royals a “cornerstone” of its Middle East policy, has issued fresh hunting licenses in recent months to several members of the royal families of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and others.
Some reports suggest the hunters consider the meat of this chicken-sized bird an aphrodisiac.
While some have been issued hunting licenses, others without licenses have also been able to hunt the rare birds, which migrate in their thousands from Central Asia to Pakistan every winter.
Last week, a court in the southern Umer Kot district ordered an inquiry after locals complained about disturbances to their daily life caused by members of the U.A.E.’s royal family and their entourage. They also said the hunting party did not have a license.
According to the complaint, the family member had borrowed the license of his relative, the U.A.E. prime minister.
“Following the court orders, we have launched an inquiry, which will take a few more days to complete,” a senior Sindh province wildlife department official told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media.
Meanwhile, the government has taken “disciplinary action” against certain officials who last week tried to prevent the royal entourage from illegally hunting in the remote Diplo town of Umer Kot district, which borders neighboring India.
“The Sindh Wildlife Department has formally opposed the issuance of further hunting licenses to Arab hunters, as they not only disturb local life but also pose an existential threat to the already endangered houbara bustard,” the official went on to say.
The department expelled a Qatari hunting party late last month from the Thar desert, the official said. But the federal government forced the provincial government to allow the hunting party, which comprised members of the Bahraini royal family, to hunt the houbara bustard.
In December security forces arrested four Arab nationals – three Qataris and an Omani – in the southwestern Balochistan province for hunting the houbara bustard without a permit. They were later released when high-ranking government officials intervened.
The Balochistan High Court was the first to ban the hunting of the houbara bustard in the province in 2015, a verdict which the Supreme Court initially upheld. But in 2016 the federal government permitted the issuance of further hunting licenses.
Despite the inquiry order, hunting the houbara bustard, also known as “small game hunting,” was carrying on unabated.
Hanif Samoon, a Pakistani journalist who follows wildlife-related stories closely, corroborated the official’s version of events.
“The hunting game is on despite the court’s inquiry orders amid tight security. When it comes to Arab royals, there are no rules.” Samoon said.
The houbara species found in Pakistan is officially known as the MacQueen’s bustard, or the Asian bustard.
Trained falcons are used for hunting the endangered bird, which is found in south, southwestern and northeastern Pakistan.
The exact number of houbara bustards in Pakistan remains unknown.
In 2017, a high court in the northeastern city of Lahore set up a “houbara commission” in order to conduct a scientific survey that would determine the endangered bird’s population in the eastern Punjab province.
“We have almost finished our task and are now compiling the figures, which will be released within a couple of weeks,” the commission’s coordinator Jamshed Chaudhry said.
Arab royals frequently visit Pakistan upon the invitation of local politicians and government officials, who arrange hunting safaris for them.
The sprawling deserts of Thar and Cholistan are the preferred hunting grounds of the Arab hunters. Some argue that the wealthy Arab Sheikhs contribute to employment opportunities and improvements in local infrastructure through their hunting activities.
Mohammad Irshad, a resident of the Rahimyar Khan district, said Arab royals have built hospitals, roads and other facilities in the areas where they hunt.
“They hire a number of locals, whom they pay handsomely. In addition, Rahimyar Khan has an international airport because of these hunting activities,” Irshad said, referring to the Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Airport.
Dr. Uzma Khan from the Pakistan branch of the World Wildlife Fund partially agreed. “No doubt, they have done many things for community development in the hunting areas. But these are two different things. Uncontrolled hunting cannot be allowed just because the hunters do something humanitarian. Two wrongs cannot make a right,” she said.