Daily Briefs

Photo : Dawn

24 December 2019, Tuesday

Pakistan gives permission to the Gulf rulers to hunt Houbara, again

The foreign ministry issues permit for the foreigners, mostly the royal families of the Gulf to hunt the bustards during the winter, primarily in Balochistan province.

PR Daily Brief | D. Suba Chandran

Pakistan gives permission to the Gulf rulers to hunt Houbara, again

In the news

According to a news report published in the Dawn, “the federal government has issued special permits to King of Bahrain Sheikh Hamad bin Isa bin Salman al Khalifa and five other members of his family to hunt the internationally-protected houbara bustard during the 2019-20 hunting season.”


Issues in the background

Hunting Houbara bustard by the kings, princes and other ruling families from different Gulf countries have become an issue in Pakistan during the recent years. The foreign ministry of Pakistan issues permits for the foreigners, mostly the royal families of the Gulf to hunt the bustards during the winter, primarily in Balochistan province.

The bustards migrate from Central Asia to Pakistan during this time to avoid the extreme cold in that part of the world but get hunted by the Arab royals.

Internationally, the bustard is considered endangered. The International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has the bustard on its red list. Civil society initiatives in Pakistan attempted to ban the hunting. Media wrote extensively about the need for ban.

Read the following editorial in Dawn: “News of the Gulf Arab royals taking over large swathes of territory in Pakistan to hunt the vulnerable houbara bustard is not new. Despite some local outcry over hunting of the endangered bird, moneyed foreigners, aided by officialdom, continue to indulge in the blood sport, with some individuals killing hundreds of houbaras per trip, making a mockery of conservation efforts. As a news item, based on a report by the Balochistan forest and wildlife department, pointed out in this paper, some months ago a Saudi prince hunted around 2,000 birds along with members of his entourage in Balochistan. The prince hunted 1,977 birds while those accompanying him hunted 123 birds during a 21-day expedition in January. While the ‘special permits’ issued by the federal government only allow the holder (and not those accompanying him) to hunt up to 100 houbara bustards in 10 days, simple arithmetic suggests that the bag limit was exceeded by a wide margin. Apparently, the hunters also ventured into protected areas. This is not an isolated incident. Similar violations are reported nearly every year involving both royalty and influential commoners from several Gulf sheikhdoms..”

The hard-hitting above editorial in Dawn was written in April 2014, more than five years ago! The lower courts did issue a ban; unfortunately, the Supreme Court lifted the ban on hunting, following an argument from the government that the ban would undermine Pakistan’s relationship with the Gulf.

The first issue in the bustard hunting by the Gulf royal family is the government collusion. While the federal government, especially the foreign ministry allow permits for the foreigners to hunt, the provincial governments along with the wildlife department allow the hunting. Worse, the Wildlife Departments at the provincial levels, change the list of hunted birds to the winter, thereby permitting the hunting.

The second issue is related to sovereignty. The governments – whether led by PTI or PML-N and PPP earlier – seems to be more than willing to allow the members of the Gulf royal families to hunt, than address domestic questions relating to conservation.

Consider the following report in Dawn: “Under a code of conduct issued by the foreign ministry, a hunter can hunt 100 houbara bustards in a 10-day hunting spree during the three-month-long hunting season between Nov 1, 2019 and Jan 31, 2020…King of the Kingdom of Bahrain Sheikh Hamad bin Isa bin Salman al Khalifa has been allocated Jamshoro district (including Thano Bula Khan, Kotri, Manjhand and Sehwan tehsils). The king’s uncle, Sheikh Ebrahim bin Hamad bin Abdullah al Khalifa, has been allowed to hunt the migratory bird in Sujawal district’s Shah Bunder tehsil. The king’s cousin, who is also his interior minister, Lt Gen Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al Khalifa, will hunt in Naushahro Feroze district in Sindh and Jaffarabad district in Balochistan. The king’s adviser on defence, Sheikh Abdullah bin Salman al Khalifa, will carry out the hunting of the protected bird in Sujawal district’s Jati tehsil. A cousin of the king, Sheikh Khalid bin Rashid bin Abdullah al Khalifa, has been given Tando Mohammad Khan, while his another cousin, Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali al Khalifa, will hunt in Hyderabad and Malir (excluding Malir Cantonment and Dhabeji areas) districts.”

Third issue is related to federal-provincial relations. There have been protests from the provincial governments against issuing licenses to the royal families from the Gulf. A small section though get benefitted by the presence and tour of the royal families, there are also local objections against the same. There were complaints in the past on how the hunting parties would enter croplands.

Fourth issue is related to conservation. While a small section is working hard to protect the wildlife in Pakistan – both at the federal and provincial levels, that is not sufficient. Though the government provides hunting licenses for ten days and hunt only 100 birds per person, in reality it has never been the case.

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