ISLAMABAD: Despite a ban on hunting, more than a hundred big game animals have been illegally hunted and their carcasses smuggled to Western countries from Pakistan over the past few years through a company linked to the family of a former senior provincial minister using fake certificates.
The issue surfaced in April this year when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) — a US agency which manages national wildlife refuges, protects endangered species, manages migratory birds, restores nationally significant fisheries and enforces federal wildlife laws — detained consignments of hunting trophies which had been allegedly illegally exported from Karachi by Indus Safari Pvt (Ltd).
Of the ten consignments confiscated, two were bags containing the Blandford Urial, two cases of the Punjab Urial — both of which are listed in CITES. US-FWS also seized trophies of the Himalayan Ibex, the Sindh ibex, chinkara gazelle. Two more consignments of trophies comprising the golden jackal were also confiscated.
According to official correspondence between the US-FWS and the Ministry of Climate Change, copies of which are available with The Express Tribune, the US government had expressed its concerns about the authenticity of the certificates attached with the trophies, lack of export permits for species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in eight consignments and sought to verify the documents.
The US-FWS also raised objections over the Form-B attached with the consignment. The form had been issued by the Sindh Wildlife Department and it appeared that hunting permission had been granted after the hunt was over. Further, the US-FWS letters show that that the shipment was exported with an office memorandum which appears to say that the MoCC does not require a permit for this shipment.
Moreover, the US-FWS enquired about any exemption for CITES species exported from Pakistan as personal baggage.
In response to the inquiries, the MoCC said that Pakistan did not have any exception for accompanying baggage and that hunting trophies can only be exported with CITES export permits, adding that exports of wild mammals, CITES or not, is prohibited.
“Only trophies hunted under community-based trophy hunting programme are allowed for export but for these exports, CITES export permits are mandatory, there is no exception for this,” the MoCC stated in its official response.
“Such action is not only a serious violation of the CITES but also a threat to community-based conservation initiative in the country,” a MoCC official told The Express Tribune, adding that they had blacklisted the firm following complaints.
“Sindh Wildlife Department has been asked to take strict action for the criminal offence and investigate all past permits issued to the firm, under the intimation of the ministry of climate change,” the MoCC official added.
Only fraction caught
Another MoCC official told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity that the actual number of trophies exported was in excess of 150 and the US authorities only detained around 30 per cent of them or just 35 trophies.
The official pointed to Safari Club International (SCI), an online record book, which found that from 2013 to 2017, around 35 trophies were hunted by SCI members. However, the MoCC had no records of permits being issued for these hunts by the relevant authorities
“Hunting is banned in Pakistan but a limited number of hunting permits are issued on community-based hunting by the wildlife department of Pakistan which are sold in an open auction when the official hunting season starts on October 20 and ends on April 20,” the MoCC official said.
The issue of illegally hunting and exporting the Ladakh Urial has been persisting for months with no resolution in sight.
The matter was first raised at the CITES Management Authority meeting in Islamabad in December 2017. At that meeting, the Gilgit-Baltistan Forest and Wildlife Departments were asked to investigate the matter and submit a report.
When the matter was taken up again in the CITES Management Authority meeting on April 24, with Climate Change Minister Senator Mushahidullah Khan in the chair, the G-B forest and wildlife department was asked to investigate the matter again.
Five months ago, the G-B government has asked the CITES Management Authority to allow two scientific permits for foreign nationals to hunt the Ladakh Urial in the Bunji area.
According to a survey, the total population of the animal is less than 200 all over Pakistan.
Despite multiple attempts, no response was received from officials at Indus Safari.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2018.