The houbara bustard hunting season is once again imminent and these migratory birds will be hunted by assorted dignitaries and ‘notables’ from the Arabian peninsula and the Gulf region. Up to 17 permits a year are issued, allowing permit holders to hunt up to 10 birds a day in specified areas, a number that is reportedly widely flouted. Also flouted is the requirement that the birds are hunted with falcons but they are more frequently shot, instead. The Arab hunters come to Balochistan for its bustards because of the alleged aphrodisiac qualities of its meat, a myth unsupported by a shred of evidence. The hunters bring with them their cooks, cleaners, drivers and other servants as well as their courtiers, and have been known to benefit local communities by building airports and roads. They distribute money, Hajj tickets and food to those local ‘influentials’ that facilitate them but the trickle-down to the common man is minuscule. The Balochistan Forest Department has protested the issuing of permits, saying that bustard numbers are in decline — they are — and that at the very least there needs to be a moratorium on hunting to allow the numbers to recover.
Houbara bustards are an endangered species and are nominally protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In a miserable irony the hunters all come from countries that are signatories to CITES, and earlier this year the United Arab Emirates sent a hunting party to Balochistan as it was simultaneously signing a treaty to protect them with the government of Kazakhstan, where many of the birds commence their fatal migration. The hunting permits are issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and have been for decades. It is time to call a halt to this annual slaughter and for the ministry to stop issuing permits, no matter whose toes it may tread on. Pakistan needs to impress upon its friends in the Gulf and the Middle East that it is serious about protecting its endangered wildlife. It is time that we shed the ways of the past and stopped appeasing the princes at the expense of these beautiful birds.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2014.
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