Houbara Headline

If it was a legal course, and the foreign hunters had a legal pass for hunting houbara, there was no need to express arrogancy on the filming of the hunting act that resulted in the murder of an innocent man who was tortured to death inside a farmhouse of known feudal lord sitting as MPA in Sindh Assembly. 

By Prof Dr Abdullah G Arijo

The incident enraged local masses and community members, who blocked the main National Highway and alleged that influential personalities were involved in the murder as the victim had made a video of some foreign hunters in his village in Thatta district recently. Later, the victim had also recorded his video saying that his life was in danger because certain elements were threatening him.

This is not a new act and Pakistani authorities have been issuing a license to Arab hunters for cheap cost and so-called diplomatic relations.

In yesteryears, quite a few articles have been published in the national and international press regarding houbara bustard hunting by the royal crown in Pakistan, but nothing seems to have improved as might be right. National newspapers also report that Tabuk Governor Prince Fahad bin Sultan, who had attracted international media attention when news regarding his poaching over 2,000 houbaras was published sometime back, did not pay the mandatory houbara hunting fees of $100,000 last year. Though Prince Fahad had also brought in 60 falcons last year, he did not pay the falcon fees as well, $1,000 for each falcon totalling $60,000. The total dues to the Tabuk governor last year (hunting season 2019-20) was $160,000, as reported by the media.

Sad, indeed, very sad. Once again, Houbara Bustard has been used in soft diplomacy by the Pakistani Foreign Office and the royal King of Bahrain with uncles and cousins has been granted a permit to hunt Houbara Bustard, a precious bird declared as endangered species by International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

According to permission, issued by the foreign ministry, a hunter can hunt 100 houbara bustards in a 10-day hunting season between Nov 1, 2019, and Jan 31, 2020.

King Bahrain Sheikh Hamad bin Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa will hunt in Jamshoro district (including Thano Bula Khan, Kotri, Manjhand and Sehwan tehsils). The king’s uncle, Sheikh Ebrahim bin Hamad bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, has been allowed to hunt the endangered bird in Sujawal district’s Shah Bunder tehsil and his Lt Gen Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, will hunt in Naushahro Feroze district in Sindh and Jaffarabad district in Balochistan. Tando Mohammad Khan has been given to another cousin Sheikh Khalid bin Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, has been given, while another cousin, Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali al-Khalifa, will hunt in Hyderabad and Malir (excluding Malir Cantonment and Dhabeji areas) districts.

While one ranks hunting as a game, but it is a brutal act that ultimately ends at the extinction of precious fauna. Humans will have to pay the price. Birds are nothing but beauty. 85% of their species are habituated in tropical Africa and the remaining 15 % in the rest of the world. Some species of birds migrate miles to avoid severe winter and are posed to risk as they are hunted and in return, they are not capable to fly back to their native destination. With the onset of the winter season, royal reaches too in Pakistan intending to hunt houbara, a luxury that never ends and cause the extinction of species, currently declared endangered. Wealthy Arabs pay a huge sum for the season and violate even whatever their license does not list those ill acts.

During the winter season, quite a big number of aquatic bird species migrate to the diversified locations particularly water bodies (lakes) of Pakistan, most of them in Sindh. Houbara bustard, on the other hand, is a terrestrial migratory bird and find refuge in the plain lands of Sindh, Southern Punjab and Balochistan.  According to estimates, around 30,000 to 40,000 houbara bustards migrate to Pakistan every year and due to overhunting, these innocent migrants never travel back to the destination they came from for they are hunted. Arabs and some local lords may be truly blamed for this dis-credit, however, to them it is a status symbol.

Once a thriving species, the houbara bustard population has drastically fallen in recent years and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has placed it on its “red list” of threatened species. Its current global population is estimated at between 50,000 to 100,000 birds and with the alarming speed with which they are hunted, they are likely to become extinct.

They’re a shy, rare birds breed, the size of a chicken – and hunting them is officially banned in Pakistan. But it is no holds banded when Arab royals begin their Houbara bustard hunting trips. Money can buy them almost everything. Arab princes and their wealthy friends, with the help of Pakistan Wildlife, manage to hunt Houbara bustards both as a sport and because the meat is considered a luxury

 

These birds, though not native to Pakistan migrate miles central Asia to Pakistan during the winter season and provide the Pakistani elite with a chance to engage in “soft diplomacy” with royal princes, and in a way, Pakistan is a secretive Houbara bustard hunting industry that serves multiple purposes.

Hunting Houbara has become a popular game and despite legal restrictions, illegal hunters particularly coming from Gulf states hunt it with their trained birds of prey. For local’s, the winter season is a source of earning and a chance to establish contacts.

It is reported that, despite the hunting ban, the government issues between 25 and 35 special permits annually to wealthy sheikhs, allowing them to hunt the bird. The hunting parties are given a limit of 100 birds in a maximum 10-day period but often exceed their quota. One would never forget the leaking of an official report in 2014, that a Saudi prince had killed more than 2,000 birds in a 21-day hunting safari. Our officials time and again impose a “temporary moratorium” every winter but there is a clear violation. This is why in August 2015, the Supreme Court ordered a blanket ban on hunting Houbara bustards, officials issued “partridge hunting” licenses to Arab royals instead. But locals say that is not what they killed on the ground.

The dirty role of the game warden must not be ignored. They give deaf ears to what you tell them and act so dormant as if nothing had gone. Once, news along with pictorial proof goes viral, they too come on the surface making dummy management for eyewash.

It is not just hinting that has a dark side. The native people speak volumes of problems created by wealthy Arabs. In the name of security, farmers are kept at bay for weeks and district management has its fangs to use and keep the masses shut till the business is over.

It is important to note that the reproductive potential of Houbara blustered is not impressive.  The female Houbara normally has two clutches a year, although in some cases it is three. A single clutch can contain between 2-4 eggs. The number of eggs also depends on the habitat as well as the weather conditions. The female Houbara makes a shallow hollow or scrapes in the sandy ground to lay her eggs. When sitting on her eggs her camouflage makes her almost invisible to her surroundings.

Surprisingly, there has been habitat destruction, therefore, the bird does not find a suitable atmosphere to breed and continue their generation. Hence habitat destruction has also contributed to making this creature an endangered species.

The global population of Houbara Bustards as estimated by IUCN during 2015 was between 78,960 and 97,000, and the principal threat is from hunting, and if hunting pressure is not reduced the species could soon come out of endangered category to extinct state. Pakistan must not act like “Hunter’s Paradise” and endangered species must be given due to legitimate shelter to save the precious wildlife.

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