By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Even as houbara bustard has been declared globally a protective species of birds, thousands of them have fallen to the hunting expeditions of Arab royals and their wealthy friends in Pakistan over fast months, claimed official sources.
Hunting the shy, rare bird breed, the size of a chicken is a favorite sport of visiting Arab Sheikhs because its meat is considered an aphrodisiac.
Official sources here said that since the commencement of hunting season in November, the central government has so issued 50 licenses through the Foreign Ministry to Arab royals form Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and others. The hunting season will end in February.
In search of warm weather and food, migratory birds including rare species start to swarm Pakistani planes and its lakes every year in winter to avoid freezing temperatures in their primary abode in Siberia. The houbara species is officially known as MacQueen's bustard or Asian bustard.
According to government sources, the latest license was issued to Maj Gen Sheikh Ahmad bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, deputy chief of police and general security of Dubai, who is also a member of the ruling family. He was issued a license last week that allows him to hunt birds in the Thar desert of southern Sindh province for hunting houbara bustard. A permit, issued for 10 days, allows an individual to hunt up to 100 birds during the hunting season.
"Officially, the foreign dignitaries have so far hunted 2000-3000 birds, mainly houbara bustards since November", a senior foreign ministry official told Anadolu Agency requesting, not to be named as he was not allowed to speak to media on the issue.
Locals officials, however, say the numbers are much more, as hunters do not always comply with the quota allocated to them by the government.
Bhagwandas, a Karachi-based journalist who regularly writes on wildlife-related issues, especially houbara bustard hunting, says that the numbers of birds killed by the hunters always remains just a guess.
"The official figures of hunted birds are prepared by a low-ranking wildlife officer who is supposed to be with the hunting party to ensure the implementations of the license conditions. But practically, he cannot even enter the camping site. He simply fills up the paper as per figures provided by the hunters themselves," he told Anadolu Agency.
- Hunting safaris
When contacted by Anadolu Agency, a senior official of the Pakistan chapter of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Nature, refused to comment on the issue. " We avoid commenting on the issue because of certain reasons,” he said.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Aisha Farooqui, despite repeated reminders, did not respond to the questions sent to her by Anadolu Agency to get the government version and the exact number of hunted birds.
Earlier this month, local media reported that Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was on a hunting expedition in the northeastern Rahimyar Khan district.
In 2015, the Governor of Saudi Arabia's Tabuk province, Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, — had sparked a row, when an official report leaked to the local media stated that his entourage had hunted 2,100 houbara bustard, which was 20 times more than the quota allocated to him.
Trained falcons are also employed for hunting the endangered bird which is found in the south, southwestern and northeastern Pakistan.
Arab royals frequently visit Pakistan at the invitation of local politicians and government officials, who arrange hunting safaris.
The sprawling deserts of Thar and Cholistan are the favorite hunting spots for the Arab hunters. Some argue the hunting activities of the wealthy Arab Sheikhs contribute to employment opportunities and improvement in local infrastructure.
In Rahimyar Khan district in the Punjab province, the Arab royals have constructed hospitals, roads, and other facilities. The city even has an international airport known as Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Airpor- because of the hunting expeditions.
"They (hunters) do contribute to the local development, especially in terms of construction of hospitals, mosques, and other infrastructure. The locals get jobs during the season. But hunting an endangered bird cannot be justified in the name of gets jobs and development works. In the long run, it imbalances the ecological system and hence has long term effects on the local economy as well," said Bhagwandas.