World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) has condemned hunting of 2,100 Houbara Bustard in Chagai, Baluchistan.
Divisional Forest Officer of Baluchistan Forest and Wildlife Department, Chagai in Dalbandin highlighted hunting of 2,100 Houbara Bustards. Houbara Bustard, is listed as “vulnerable” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. It is also listed in Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix I, pertaining to species that are vulnerable to hunting and poaching due to their economic value. In Urdu t is known as” Tiloor”.
The migratory bird is found all across the world including Egypt east of the Nile through Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, UAE., Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia to China, with unconfirmed reports from Azerbaijan and Turkey. However, illegal hunting and trapping of the bird has impacted its population severely in recent years.
Large numbers of Houbara Bustard are illegally hunted and trapped in Pakistan, and shipped to Arab countries for use in training falcons to hunt. Houbara Bustards are also hunted and killed for their meat.
Gulf Arab royals come to Pakistan to hunt the vulnerable houbara bustard is not new. Some months ago a Saudi prince hunted around 2,000 birds along with members of his entourage in Balochistan. The prince hunted 1,977 birds while those accompanying him hunted 123 birds during a 21-day expedition in January. While the ‘special permits’ issued by the federal government only allow the holder (and not those accompanying him) to hunt up to 100 houbara bustards in 10 days, simple arithmetic suggests that the bag limit was exceeded by a wide margin. Apparently, the hunters also ventured into protected areas. This is not an isolated incident. Similar violations are reported nearly every year involving both royalty and influential commoners from several Gulf sheikhdoms. Arab sheikhs are notoriously enthusiastic hunters, traveling to Pakistan each year to hunt the bird using the traditional Arabian method, arriving by private jets from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Locals in areas where the houbara is hunted are more than eager to help the foreign visitors as they are amply rewarded in cash and kind for their efforts. It is indeed ironic that while some in the Gulf are working to protect the houbara bustard in their own countries, that during the 21-day safari the prince hunted the birds for 15 days in the reserved and protected areas, poached birds in other areas for six days and took rest for two days. The next two days on Jan 12 and 13th he hunted 116 and 93 birds in the Gut game sanctuary (Sai Rek) which is also a reserved and protected area. Then for the next two days Prince Fahd, who is also governor of Tabuk, visited Sato Gut and hunted 82 and 80 houbaras on Jan 14 and 15, respectively. On Jan 16, he visited Gut-i-Barooth and hunted 79 houbaras. Both these areas are not protected areas.
For the next six days the Saudi royal camped in the Koh-i-Sultan state forest, which is a reserved and protected area, and hunted 93, 82, 94, 97, 96 and 120 houbara bustards on Jan 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22, respectively.
On Jan 23 and 24, he continued his hunting spree in the Gut game sanctuary (Dam), which is a reserved as well as protected area, and hunted 116 and 197 houbara bustards, respectively.
The prince carried out hunting of the protected bird in Thalo Station and hunted 89 houbara bustards on Jan 25 and spent the next two days hunting the birds in Pul Choto, killing 34 and 89 birds on Jan 26 and 27, respectively. Both of these areas are neither reserved nor protected.
The remaining four days, Prince Fahd spent in the Gut game sanctuary, a reserved as well as protected area, and hunted 92, 94, 119 and 97 birds on Jan 28, 29, 30, and 31, respectively. The royal guest took rest on Feb 1 and 2 at the Bar Tagzai base camp after bringing the grand total of his trophies to 1,977.
“123 birds were hunted by local representatives and other labourers of the hunting party. The total bustards hunted by Prince Fahd bin Abdul Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud are 1,977 and total bustards hunted by local representatives and other labourers are 123 bringing the grand total to 2100”.
According to the Third Schedule of the Balochistan Wildlife Act (1974), “All Bustards” from the family Otididae are listed as Protected Animals; i.e. Animals which shall not be hunted, killed or captured.” To provide legal cover, the provincial governments often use the provisions of a leniency clause within the Balochistan and Punjab Wildlife Acts to “de-list” these protected species for the period of hunting by foreign dignitaries.
Director General of WWF-Pakistan states that any species which is listed in the threatened category such as Houbara Bustard should be regularly surveyed before hunting permits are issued and the hunting should be closely monitored. Protected areas and breeding grounds of the Houbara Bustard should remain exempt from any hunting.
Trophy hunting initiatives should be introduced to restore the population of Houbara Bustards in the region which will help increase its population along with the uplift of communities. Community Based Organizations (CBOs) should also be made to empower local communities and to turn poachers into protectors of biodiversity.