-Photo by Ker Than/National Geographic
On absorbing the final report on the massacre of wildlife in his region, I wonder if Jafar Baloch of the Balochistan Forest and Wildlife learned something important about the dynamics of Pak-Saudi relation:
When a Arab country offers you $1.5 billion dollars, it becomes tremendously difficult to regulate its royals’ hunting activities in your reserves.
Saudi Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was permitted to hunt a total of a 100 Houbara Bustards in 10 days, in Chagai, Balochistan. We fear our honorable guest may have somewhat overshot the limit by killing 2100 birds, an average of a 100 each day for 21 days.
The Houbara Bustard is an endangered bird, whose meat is valued by the Arab falconers as an aphrodisiac. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has estimated the total global population of Houbara Bustards to be 110,000, declining at an average rate of nearly 25 per cent.
Also read: Houbara bustard butchery
It may be a matter of pride for some to be personally responsible for slaughtering nearly 2 per cent of the world’s total population of a species of birds; and cause near-eradication of the bird’s indigenous variety in Pakistan’s nature reserves.
Others, like me, find it appalling.
I cannot, for the life of me, imagine why the Saudi Prince and his hunting friends had been allowed to hunt any of these rare birds at all. This is, interestingly, the same bird whose migratory friends have sparked diplomatic rows with India in the past. These birds are known to migrate annually from Central Asia to India.
Last year, our Eastern neighbour scratched its head over the diminished size of the incoming flock, and discovered that they were being poached in Sindh, on their way to Rajasthan. Whether this was negligence on Pakistan’s part, or some odd revenge plan for India’s attempts at restricting water flow into Pakistan, remains to be discussed in a humorous fashion.
Enough pressure was mounted on Pakistan to halt the illegal hunting of these majestic birds, and so we did. But we’re always willing to make certain exceptions for our Arab guests and benefactors. We began granting them special permits to ‘poach’ on our land.
Also read: Open season
All of us who were outraged by news of the French restaurant denying service to Pakistani patrons and allowing only foreigners, will indubitably take offense at the idea of only foreigners being allowed to hunt a bird that locals are forbidden to harm.
Saudis are not unaware of the rarity of Houbara Bustard. They have been conducting their own captive breeding program in the Mahazat as-Sayd reserve, recognising that the population of this species has been rapidly dwindling. The birds in our reserves are ostensibly fair game for the royal family.
The Houbara Bustard also happens to be the provincial bird of Balochistan. With the region's human population in deep turmoil, it was only fitting for the glorious provincial bird to meet the same fate.
The Prince’s actions are the equivalent of your house guest, repaying your warm reception by playing cricket in your living room; and grinning broadly as he poses for a picture next to a pile of broken furniture and fine china.
The least we can expect is a formal apology from the state of Pakistan for issuing those special permits. For allowing such unspeakable, and potentially irreplaceable, damage to our wildlife.