Illegal trade of endangered Saker and Peregrine falcons continues unabated across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, allegedly with the help of government officials.
For the past two decades, Peshawar is said to be the largest black market of falcons in the world. Affluent Arabs often visit the city to buy these birds.
“An Arab Sheikh from Saudi Arabia visited Peshawar and bought a Saker falcon for Rs40 million last month. It was a large female brought from Russia, hardly one-year-old,” said a local dealer wishing not to be named.
In the winters, Arabs visit Rahim Yar Khan to hunt Houbara Bustards, he said. “They buy inexpensive birds as pets for their children. These birds are then freed, following which they buy rare birds which are then transported to Gulf countries using the travel documents of the inexpensive birds,” he said.
The dealer alleged customs officials, police and the wildlife department are being paid huge sums of money for not interfering in the illegal trade. “There are four major groups based in Peshawar who deal in Saker and Peregrine falcons. The volume of trade nears Rs4 billion annually,” he said.
The dealer added these groups have hunting camps in China, Russia and Afghanistan, but do not hunt locally since good birds are now hard to find in Pakistan after years of excessive hunting. “We capture at least 400 Saker falcons every year in one camp of China alone, despite the fact that there is a strict ban on netting in the country.”
The dealer said Arab sheikhs only buy large female falcons to hunt Houbara Bustards, which is why these falcons can fetch as much as Rs60 million.
He said despite multiple breeding centres for Saker falcons in Europe and Arab countries, people prefer wild birds since they are more offensive hunters, compared to the birds bred in captivity, which are cheap to acquire as well.
In the past month, at least four people have been arrested by the police in Peshawar for smuggling Saker falcons. A crackdown on falcon hunting camps is being carried out in Peshawar and Charsadda and so far six such camps have been destroyed.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2013.