ISLAMABAD: The wildlife and forest departments of Sindh and Balochistan have told a parliamentary panel that illegal hunting poses a threat to critically endangered houbara bustard, partridges and other migratory birds, resulting in decline in their numbers.
Officials from the two provinces have expressed helplessness before the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs that the guests from Arab countries “do not bother to follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and permit requirements”.
“We have forwarded a summary to the Sindh chief minister for imposing a two-year ban on every type of hunting because this is the only way to stop their [birds] numbers from going down further,” Sindh’s Forest Department secretary Asif Haider told the committee on Wednesday which Senator Nuzhat Sadiq chaired.
Haider said about three million birds were recorded to have been hunted during the last three years that included partridges, quails, ducks and other migratory birds. “The number is witnessing a nosedive and nothing has been done to stop such abrupt hunting,” he said.
Balochistan’s Forest and Wildlife Secretary Dr Umer also discussed the sorry state of affairs regarding hunting, especially by Arabs princes, saying they did not bother to follow rules and regulations of the land thus getting a free hand for illegal hunting.
“The number of houbara bustard which is their favorite hunt is on the decline and recently some princes came on a week-long hunting trip but returned on the third day due to the absence of these birds,” Dr Umer said.
Explaining reasons for the decline, he said ruthless hunting, dry spell and “above all the illegal hunting, especially by foreigners in which one licensee prince comes with more than 10 hunters”.
He said nobody could dare ask them about paying the hunting fee prescribed in the SOPs and permit issued at the time of arrival.
“We just receive a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for security of these princes, and that too late night, for early morning hunt,” he said, adding the princes also contact directly and come to hunt illegally as their guests.
He suggested that the illegal practice could be stopped if the permit was issued by the province, being their job after the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
Dr Umer was of the view that those princes never bother to pay the amount of Rs10 million required for the permit, besides violating the term of number of birds that often exceeded.
“Even deputy commissioners cannot ask them about the payment, actually meant for endowment fund, as they were referred to the embassy. So provinces should also be allowed to correspond with the embassy,” he suggested further.
He expressed complete exasperation over the issue and stated none of the princes replied to the requests made by local administrations regarding fulfilling the criteria about finances and other protocols.
The Foreign Office protocol officer suggested that the practice of illegal hunting could be stopped if permits were issued after payment of the required fee. He added there was a need to have a clear policy like Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa that had clearly banned princes from any such hunting.
The secretary from Balochistan added that those royal hunters should also pay specific amount for the development of those areas and conservation of those birds.
“They should not directly pay to locals in the form of alms and permits should be issued by the provincial governments,” he told the committee.
Senator Tahir Mashhadi said that the suggestions should be implemented as Pakistan is a destination for the rarest of the birds in the world.
Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua also said a survey should be carried out to know about the exact number of those birds.