Outrage in Balochistan against Arab princes’ hunt for houbara bustard

: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Handout Photo by the villager of
A Photo of the Houbara Bustard after hunted at Dukki, Loralai (Northern Balochistan). : Photo By News Lens Pakistan

Quetta: It is that time of the year when Balochistan receives personages who come in chartered planes, bringing heavy vehicles fit for desert safari. And falcons, for they are here for a hunting safari.

Arab princes from Saudi Arab and Gulf countries descend on Balochistan in December when winter is at its peak and the cold brings migratory birds from Siberia. Among them is the houbara bustard, the nearly endangered migratory bird that is much valued by the Arab hunters.

As the tawny houbara with mottled feathers head for their breeding grounds in Kazakhastan, China and Mangolia during winters, they go through the Pakistani deserts where they are hunted by Arab princes in Balochistan, Sindh and parts of Punjab.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the total global population of houbara is guesstimated at 79,000 and falling. “The principal threat is from hunting (primarily using falconry), largely but not exclusively on the species’ wintering grounds,” says IUCN. “Large numbers are also trapped, mainly in Pakistan and Iran, and shipped to Arabia for use in the training of falcons.”

Come winters and the bird that is on the IUCN Red List for being an endangered species is hunted by high-rolling Arab falconers for the aphrodisiac quality of its flesh. While houbara hunting has been banned in India for decades, Pakistan continues to give special licenses to Arab rulers and senior officials, much to the chagrin of local activists whose protest against houbara hunting has grown increasingly strident over the years. There is even now a Facebook page run by Pakistani community: Calling on Viagra to Save Endangered Houbara Bustard Birds.

“Every winter, Saudi (and other Arab) royalty comes to Pakistan to hunt the houbara bustard in our deserts and, of course, there is outrage — the argument being that if it is illegal for Pakistanis to kill these endangered birds why should Arab sheikhs be allowed to do so?”, says Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan. “No action is usually taken, however, and Pakistan’s Foreign Office, which issues the special houbara bustard hunting permits, continues kowtowing to Arab royalty.”

According to LEAD, “Prince Fahd Bin Sultan, a member of the House of Saud and the governor of Tabuk province in Saudi Arabia, hunted 2,100 houbara bustards in Balochistan in an orgy of killing that lasted three weeks during the winter months of 2014.”

This year again, the Prince arrived in Dalbandin area of Balochiswtan to hunt houbara bustard, violating the ban imposed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Balochistan High Court.

In November 2014, the Balochistan High Court had “banned hunting” in the province of Balochistan and had cancelled all the “permits” and declared the “allotted” areas by Foreign Office of Pakistan for Houbara Bustard hunt “illegal”.

The Saudi prince was received by Pakistan’s Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Balochistan Minister Mujeebur Rehman Muhammad Hassani at Dalbandin Airport in Chagai district.

Adviser to chief minister Balochistan on Forest and Wild Life, Obaidullah Jan Babath told reporters in Press Club Quetta that “Arab Sheiks are in Balochistan to inspect their [Arabs] social and development activities in the province; they are never here for ‘hunting Houbara Bustard.’”

Babath added that Balochistan government and its wild life department has never allowed the “Arab Sheiks to hunt” in the province.

News Lens Pakistan tried to reach the divisional Forest officer in Dalbandin but his phone went unanswered.

Manzoor Rahi, a resident of Dalbandin, told News Lens Pakistan that the Arab Prince’s entourage had arrived in luxury cars and had camped in different areas of Dalbandin.

“The Arabs are never here for the development of Balochs and Balochistan”, said Rahi. “They had been coming here for decades to hunt houbara bustard as part of their traditional hunt.”

Rahi said the Arab princes had built a hospital and mosques in Dalbandin and the hospital was handed over to the government. “Only the elite families in the area of Dalbandin welcome those the Arab hunters for vested interests. They have never pushed them for any development plans for us.”

A security person who was part of the security squad of an Arab prince in the district of Loralai told News Lens Pakistan on condition of anonymity because he feared losing his job, “The Arab prince was provided security all the day while he was busy hunting birds in the Dukki area of Loralai.”

A local forest and wild life department official who asked News Lens not to name him said that they were alerted only on the arrival of Arab hunters in district Loralai. “What can we do when officials in the provincial and federal offices welcome them?” He said, “We charge these hunters nominal permit fee for hunting. No one among the district officials can stop them as they have official permits from the foreign office.”

Engineer Zamarak Khan, leader of the Awami National Party and the deputy opposition leader in Balochistan Assembly, told News Lens Pakistan, “The Arabs princes are never here for development activities in Balochistan. I know the hunt is going on and completed in some areas of Musakhel and Dukki. Now Dalbandin has welcomed a governor from Saudi Arabia. We strongly oppose the violation of Balochistan High Court decision and condemn the illegal hunt of Houbara Bustard across the province.”

Khan added that thousands of bustards were killed every year by the Arab princes in Balochistan. “This should be condemned by all political parties, social organizations and lawyer groups. The provincial ministers are given gifts in kind and cash so they can defend the illegal hunt of endangered birds on our land by foreigners.”

Former senator and executive committee member of Balochistan National Party, Sana Baloch told News Lens Pakistan that the Foreign Office of Pakistan had no constitutional rights to allot or allocate Balochistan land to foreigners for leisure and hunting.

“Local elite and corrupt politicians are getting direct benefits from Arab princes such as free Hajj to Mecca, madrassa funds, personal gifts in terms of vehicles and cash and even massive support during elections.”

“When the Pakistan Foreign Office has banned foreign diplomats and journalists from entering Balochistan, how come special arrangements for Arab royals then?” asked Sana.

Sana Baloch said that the houbara bustard and the Baloch people were victims of the “anti-people elite in Islamabad that is the prime beneficiary of this whole exercise.”

“India and other countries have never issued such licenses despite good relations with Arabs,” he said.

Former member of national assembly, Abdul Rauf Mengal said that federal government official to provincial and then district level officials, all received gifts and money from Arab princes to facilitate the hunt.

“Nowhere in the world can we see an example an endangered species hunted with impunity,” he said.