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. Locals in areas where the houbara is hunted are more than eager to help the foreign visitors as they are amply rewarded in cash and kind for their efforts.

Yet the main responsibility for allowing the wanton, yearly massacre of the houbara bustard lies with the state, specifically the foreign ministry, as it issues the permits. The state might want to prove its hospitality to its foreign friends who want to hunt in Pakistan, but surely not at the price of violating local laws and international covenants designed to protect endangered wildlife. The issuance of permits by the centre despite devolution of the wildlife department has also been raised. It is indeed ironic that while some in the Gulf are working to protect the houbara bustard in their own countries, our government seems to care little when it comes to well-connected foreigners decimating the local bird population.

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