By Aamir Latif
Arab royals are continuing to hunt 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 terms the issuance of hunting licenses to Arab royals as 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, 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, some do not even have that and yet are able to hunt the rare bird, which migrate in their thousands from Central Asia to Pakistan every winter.
Last week, a court in southern Umer Kot district ordered an inquiry over the complaint of locals who said the presence of a member of UAE’s royal family and his entourage had disturbed daily life; they also claimed that hunting party did not have license.
According to the complaint, the family member had used the license of his relative, the U.A.E. prime minister
“We have launched an inquiry on the court orders, 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 some officials who earlier tried to do their job and stop the royal entourage last week on the charge of illegal hunting in remote Diplo town of Umer Kot district, which borders neighboring India.
“The Sindh Wildlife Department has formally opposed the issuance of any further hunting licenses to the Arab hunters as they not only disturb the local life but also pose further threats to the existence of an already endangered houbara bustard,” the official went on to say.
The department, he said, had expelled a Qatari hunting party late last month from Thar desert. But, he added, the federal government forced the provincial government to allow the hunting party -- comprising members of Bahraini royal family -- to hunt the houbara bustard.
In December security forces arrested four Arab nationals -- three Qataris and an Omani -- in southwestern Balochistan province for hunting the houbara bustard without any permit.
They were later released on the intervention of government high ups.
Balochistan High Court was the first to ban the hunting of houbara bustard in the province in 2015, a verdict, which was initially upheld by the Supreme Court, but later the federal government was allowed to issue the hunting licenses in 2016.
In spite the inquiry order, the official said the hunting of houbara bustard, also known as “small game hunting”, was continuing unabated.
Hanif Samoon, a Pakistani journalist who closely follows wildlife-related stories, also supported the official’s version.
“The hunting game is on despite the court’s inquiry orders amid tight security,” Samoon told Anadolu Agency.
“When it comes to Arab royals, there are no rules.”
The houbara species found in Pakistan is officially known as MacQueen's bustard, or 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 bustard in Pakistan remains unknown.
Contribution to development
In 2017, a high court in northeastern Lahore city set up a “houbara commission” to conduct a scientific survey to assess the endangered bird’s population in 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 Coordinator, Jamshed Chaudhry, told Anadolu Agency.
Arab royals frequently visit Pakistan at the invitation of local politicians and government officials, who arrange hunting safaris for them.
The sprawling deserts of Thar and Cholistan are the favorite hunting grounds for the Arab hunters. Some argue the hunting activities of the wealthy Arab Sheikhs contribute to employment opportunities and improvement in local infrastructure.
Mohammad Irshad, a resident of Rahimyar Khan district, said Arab royals have constructed some hospitals, roads and other facilities in the area where they go to hunt.
“A number of local people are hired by them whom they pay handsomely. Not only that, we have an international airport in Rahimyar Khan because of this hunting activity,” Irshad said.
He was referring to the Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Airport.
WWF Pakistan chapter’s Dr. Uzma Khan 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 have done something on humanitarian grounds,” she said.
“It’s very much like two wrongs cannot make one right.”