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A eulogy for 2,100 bustards

Updated Apr 23, 2014 09:53am


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  -Photo by Ker Than/National Geographic
-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.

Author Image

Faraz Talat is a doctor from Rawalpindi who writes mostly about science and prevalent social issues.

He tweets @FarazTalat

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (70) Closed

AJ Apr 22, 2014 06:46pm

'Beggars are no choosers ...

kashif siddiqui Apr 22, 2014 06:47pm

Simply because beggars are not choosers!

mac1960 Apr 22, 2014 07:03pm

A nation/government, which cannot celebrate a personality like Allama Iqbal, will not worry about birds. We as a country has lost track of what a nation should care about.

Imran Apr 22, 2014 07:06pm

Please forgive us of your feelings. We have bigger problems to deal with. Who cares about birds when Arabs are providing protection to their Taliban soldiers. An Arab is superior to a non-Arab, the sooner you get over this complex that you might be equal, only then you will stop feeling bad. Get over it, our prime minister has succeeded in doing that and look at how successful he is today.

Talat H Apr 22, 2014 07:07pm

Pathetic Pakistan

Amjad Wyne Apr 22, 2014 07:10pm

@AJ: Agreed but beggars should still have some - albeit diminished - self respect. We do not have even that. That said, however, it all boils down to a total disregard for the country by those that have the responsibility to protect it - the government. Not too long ago, another one of these thugs showed total disregard for Moenjo Daro.

Sodomite Apr 22, 2014 07:11pm

Its not the Prince who is at fault, it is Pakistan's Institutions. The Prince has no conscience. Pakistan state has no morality and ethics.

SBB Apr 22, 2014 07:25pm

I would say Thank you to the brave and honest forest officer who even had it in him to publish the report in the first place. Cannot add any more to describe how shocking this event is.

Nadir K Apr 22, 2014 07:40pm

"Saudi Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was permitted to hunt a total of a 100 Houbara Bustards in 10 days," What is the source of this information ? If true, can't chief minister of Balochistan raise this issue ?

Lahore wala Apr 22, 2014 07:56pm

@Amjad Wyne: Absolutely. Concur with you. The damage done to Mohenjo Daro is still not tabulated yet. Perhaps never will be. Because hardly any Foreign Archaeologists will risk their lives to come and study, or excavate, at numerous, numerous sites. All over this country.

AHA Apr 22, 2014 07:57pm

What else can you expect from a state that does not even care about the lives and well being of its citizens.

Mohammed A. Sukhera Apr 22, 2014 08:18pm

Houbara hunting has been banned in India for decades. According to Express Tribune, the hunting in border regions has caused friction with neighboring India and the country has protested to Pakistani Rangers about the firing in border areas. Any firing in border areas is a violation of norms and incidents like these may trigger a confrontation with India and members of hunting royals may get killed or injured. This beautiful migratory bird regarded as provincial bird of Balochistan and thousands houbara bustards migrate from cold climates to the desert areas of Pakistan every winter. However, the presence of this rare and internationally protected species has "major diplomatic implications" for Pakistan. The bustards, prized for their meat with purportedly aphrodisiac qualities, are hunted with falcons mostly by Arab royals with the permission of Pakistan as a gesture of goodwill. The Houbara Bustard is found in the Canary Islands, North Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan Kazakhstan, China and UAE. According to a report in this paper Dawn News on April 21st, 2014, Saudi prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud alone has poached over 2,100 internationally protected Houbara Bustards for fun in 21-day hunting safari in Chagai, Balochistan. This is a totally insane policy endorsed by the Government of Pakistan (bird officially protected) where a royal family member exceeds the limit of one hundred birds. A major conservation and breeding project is based near Agadir, Morocco and Rahim Yar Khan in Pakistan. We must replenish their population more than the numbers hunted in a year and royal family members should pay for the breeding projects. If we keep hunting the houbara bustard at this rate, this beautiful bird will go extinct in a few years, (already wiped out in Arabian Peninsula) and our future generations will never experience their presence and value. They will never get a chance to see them except in the pictures that will be a real tragedy for us and the hunters.

Qamar Munir Apr 22, 2014 08:23pm

Thank you Faraz for bringing up this important message regarding the general Wildlife situation in Pakistan. Although it is a matter of great concern but the public has never been made aware of it either intentionally or unintentionally. The students are never taught the importance of wildlife. Houbara Bustard is just one example, other animals like Snow Leopards, Bears and many others are also on the brink of extinction in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. No one is to be blamed!

Saba Apr 22, 2014 08:47pm

Well written.

Shame on the Saudi prince. Shame on all who let the spoiled brat have his way.

Shahpur Apr 22, 2014 08:54pm

The question is how these Saudi view Pakistan and Pakistanis, and how rulers of Pakistan treat Saudis. There is no respect for Pakistan and Pakistanis, by these Saudis. But it is the rulers of Pakistan how they presents Pakistan and Pakistanis. It is not an honorable match.

pathanoo Apr 22, 2014 09:39pm

While you are at it, why not say a eulogy for Pakistan - The Land Of The Pak.

Monal Apr 22, 2014 09:42pm

@Imran: I can simply hope that was a sarcastic comment. "Hey, we cannot save human lives, so wth, lets start killing all dogs and cats too."

zack Khan Apr 22, 2014 10:04pm

I gave beggar One rupee and he threw it at my face...we as a nation has less self respect than that!

gagan sarkar Apr 22, 2014 10:38pm

How low can a nation go to for money?

Atul Apr 22, 2014 11:06pm

This is exactly what these rich Saudis and other Arabs do in Hyderabad. In Hyderabad its not birds but innocent young brides. Shame on them and the governments of India & Pakistan that allow these things to happen.

Aziz Apr 22, 2014 11:11pm

The Saudis probably sees us as an ungrateful nation but unjustifiably

The tragedy is that the Saudis have actually paid for Pakistani made armaments in return as Robert Fisk writes.Our government actually lied to us.

It would have been better as beggars than being complicit in destabilising another brotherly country Syria. we already have Palestinian blood on our hands- courtesy General Zia ul Haq.

mariya K Apr 22, 2014 11:12pm

can't even suggest ban it - make it unlawful- etc. Because we do not even stop at red traffic lights; how can we expect this law to be implemented? hold anyone accountable who breaks the law?

Mamoon Iqbal Apr 22, 2014 11:20pm

This will continue ; even the birds of beggar nation are not secured.

Medical Advisor Apr 22, 2014 11:31pm

If the birds are actually being hunted for their so-called aphrodisiac qualities then perhaps we should refer these princelinesses to artificial substitutes made by a well-know pharmaceutical company.

Maybe send it to them at their palaces before the next hunting season starts so that Pakistani wild-life is not decimated by these uncaring people.

Aimer Apr 22, 2014 11:40pm

For sale.. Pakistani's fertile land, animals and birds for Arab, minerals for Chinese, FATA, KP for foreigners, terrorists, jihadi. dignity and self respect for western countries.

rk Apr 23, 2014 01:14am

How sad. How can one take pleasure in killing defenseless animals and call it sports? If one accepts that God created all creatures, how can one kill and inflict pain on other beings, man or animals, especially animals? Shouldn't compassion and respect for all living creatures the ultimate measure of spirituality, enhancement of human consciousness? I hope, some day, all humans become vegetarians and abjure bestial barbarism.

Mansoor Apr 23, 2014 01:22am

How many of the bird lover, Saudi Prince hater, Pakistan Bashers are TAX payers. How many if any has ever paid income tax or has a tax number. How many, only today, bled Pakistan one way or the other. Did anyone do anything Pakistan today? If we cannot support our mother and she has to choose the oldest profession why are we blaming the pimps or her customers. Seriously, can we support the army? If not then who is footing the bill? My humble request to all those who have vented their anger on these pages please ask yourself an honest question " Do I deserve to be Pakistani"

Faiza G.R. Bhatt Apr 23, 2014 01:33am

this is why i believe electing right party to the parliament is so very important. we can learn from, for example, PTI in KPK is increasing the numbers of national park in that province from current 6 to 12 and is about to take timber mafia head on. this is kind of strong people we need in the centre and the provinces - to take pride in our natural heritage and to be able to say 'No' to those foreign influential poachers..

Raja Apr 23, 2014 02:13am

Put the funds the good use. Pakistan could use 10 million from those 1500 million dollars (1.5 billion) given to breed a these birds. That's enough money to do whatever one wants to multiply the birds. Let those Arabs hunt it while we produce them in a factory.

Using this prescription the bird is saved from extinction, the Arab friends get their thrill, the government gets it's money, the breeding teaches the scientists something,the buildings and resources can be used to further save other species. Crying, and hoping the politicians will do the right thing is not the to get things done.

Milton Friedman: We will not solve our problem by electing the right people. We will only solve our problem by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.


a Apr 23, 2014 02:16am

Its the responsibility of the government to punish the guests for breaking the law. Alas, the government is busy settling its own personal score.

Pragmatist Apr 23, 2014 02:47am

Wake up Pakistan and throw away the Arab yoke you have put after you threw away the British yolk. Being a Muslim does not mean that you accept servitude of Arabs. These guys do not even remotely resemble the ones that were companions of the Holy Prophet PBUH. Save your faith, your family and your your home from their polluted way of present day character.

Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Apr 23, 2014 04:39am

What a great tragedy? I fully concur with the author that this illegal, illogical, unethical, immoral slaughtering of rare birds in the "land of the pure" should not have happened at all.

leo Apr 23, 2014 05:28am

SHAME ON PEOPLE who treat this endangered species so brutally God will vanish them instead of these birds.

Agha Asad Raza Apr 23, 2014 05:29am

This MUST stop!! Are we that far gone as a nation that we care two hoots for our wild life?

DP Apr 23, 2014 06:22am

One really has to be a sadist and narcissist to butcher so many innocent birds. Even animals do not kill unless they have to eat.

Syed Siddiqullah Apr 23, 2014 06:59am

@DP: so truly said..we as a nation have no value and self respect. our leaders and the legislators have to be blamed for this insane act in particular as they are one step ahead of animals!

Mustafa Apr 23, 2014 07:24am

@Sodomite: It is the Pakistan's Institutions who are at fault.

asad Apr 23, 2014 07:29am

Pakistani government baloch chief minister should have done something to protect these birds

chikoo Apr 23, 2014 08:48am

caz the current prime minister, has got close personal relations with these saudis and in that regard these royalities gift some amount of money and they rule like they own it genuinly. it is a shame for us and for the one whom we have choosed up as prime minister! they dont have any dignity left to tell them they need to defend their interests too. They can only defend themselves here in pakistan against week not to international allies.


Just look at the way the Arabs treat the Pakistanis compared to Indians. they prefer the Indians due to their education,Pakistanis get the Jobs that no one wants. Not too many Indians have been arrested in transporting Drugs to the Middle East either.

US Rathore Apr 23, 2014 09:43am

Dear Faraz, I share your anguish. It happened to us also in late seventies. Some Arab royals were permitted to hunt Great Indian Bustards in Rajasthan. A local community - Bishnoi, who are very particular about trees and wild life conservation rose against them. Their hunting trip was cancelled abruptly. In 1938, during annual duck shoot, in wetland in Bharatpur (India) conducted in the (dis) hounour of Lord Linlithgow, the then Governor General of India. A total of 4,273 birds were killed in a day. Massacre of 2100 Houbara Bustards remind me of that senseless killing. Kindly unite and protest against this kind of supine attitude of the government, which does not mind permitting arrogant royals to plunder national heritage.

Lodhi Apr 23, 2014 11:03am

Ashamed of being a Pakisani !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

abdullah Apr 23, 2014 11:16am

Uncover the true story of the saudi arabian king King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. father of the price Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud who killed the 2100 bustards.

Sensational story about King Abdullah who is the husband of 30 wives told by his wife who escaped form his captivity. Allah is witness to these things.

Ahetesham Apr 23, 2014 11:21am

Hope the least Pakistan can do is, declare the next 5 years as years for protection of the bird species and enforce total ban for locals and foreigners on hunting of the bustards. Thats the only way to repent and hope the damage done to the Bustard population can be recovered.

khalid Apr 23, 2014 12:37pm

The government is to blame for this massacre., one cannot expect any sense from Saudis. shameless and criminal.

Ali Khan Apr 23, 2014 12:54pm

You cannot imagine the amount of money made by corrupt officials. The government will not take action as they expect more alms in the future.

It brings to my mind that if you have a permit of 100 you can just add a 0 to make it a 1000. After all who is counting

m k Apr 23, 2014 01:01pm

This is un-Islamic and in fact wrong in every respect. hunting of this kind is totally prohibited in Islam. Shame on both Pakistan and the Prince sure both Mushrikeen.

Jamil Khan Apr 23, 2014 01:03pm

Well many frustrated voices have expressed their anger, this wont make a single bird alive again. So we need to start to transform something sad and tragic into something good and better.

I wonder why a smal part of the money that has been donated by the saudies isn't utelized to setup a breeding program for the birds like it has been done in Arabia as well? It would be a win-win situation, the Saudi Prince could benefit from the good press promotion, he could maybe go for annother hunting session once the birds population has been recovered and some people in Pakistan could make themselves experts in Houbara bustard rescueing, saving and breeding. WWF would support such efforts as well I think and the future for the provincial bird of Balochistan would look much brighter. Something like this!!

Thiru Apr 23, 2014 01:14pm

@WHATAPATHETICCOUNTRY: This is not an honest statement. The Indians and in fact the people of the subcontinent are treated with racism openly in middleeast. They show a grudging acceptance of the Westerners only because those have real political and fire power and strong sense of self-esteem.

Mansoor Apr 23, 2014 01:18pm

@mac1960: What a nation must preserve first is its language/languages - be it Punjabi, Balochi, Sindhi, Pusto and others! After the kind of cold and criminal attitude our people and governments - for whatever reasons - have shown towards our mother tongues, it's hardly surprising that we would care much about whether poor Houbara lives or perishes.

mba Apr 23, 2014 01:22pm

What we learned from Arab prince: Birds do

Kashif Apr 23, 2014 02:48pm

As I am deeply saddened by the news that Saudi Prince hunted that many number of Houbara Bustards but your article also cheered me up for raising such issues in media. And on seeing angry comments by the readers, I think at least we commoners are aware and seem concerned (unlike before when no body cared).

junaid ahmed Apr 23, 2014 03:39pm

Try to save it, for next generation.

bubble Apr 23, 2014 03:39pm

I doubt whether Pakistan is Pakistan or Pakistan has become Saudi Arabia. Where is the pride and sovereignty of Pakistan gone? Has Pakistan sold its sovereignty for $1.5 billion?

Raza Apr 23, 2014 04:23pm

@Imran: Pessimism is our sole problem, people constitute a STATE, choose a government to make laws and administer properly, if not then the people must sue the delinquents and set thing right. PERIOD.

Mohammed A. Sukhera Apr 23, 2014 04:45pm

We don't need the hand out of $1.5B if they come to our country and break our laws. We must make sure that laws for certain areas which are protected and off limits for hunting are observed by the royals. One time donation of this kind is not going to help the country in the long run. Pakistan should insist on trade and jobs for Pakistanis in these countries which will be a permanent source of income for Pakistani families for many years to come. There are thousands of Pakistanis in detention camps in Saudi Arabia who have been abandoned by the government and are languishing in the camps for minor visa violations. If the royals apply for hunting permits, we should put a condition of at least half a million new jobs to Pakistanis in their respective countries. If they meet the job quota and pay for the breeding projects in Pakistan to replenish the birds killed by the royals, we can allow them to hunt and that will be a win win situation for every one.

Texas Apr 23, 2014 05:27pm

What else was offered by Sharif Brothers to the royals !

Kdspirited Apr 23, 2014 05:37pm

When are people of Pakistan going to stand up and fight. These people of our inept govt. should be fired for their continued misconduct

MH Apr 23, 2014 10:07pm

I think the least we can do to express our outrage is to hold a demonstration outside the Saudi embassies in Pakistan for this year's crime and and may be try to protest on the camp sites of these so called royals next time they are issued with these special permits. This will put pressure on both the Saudis and their hosts/slaves........

Laeeq,NY Apr 24, 2014 12:15am

Instead of eullology, we should be offering funeral prayers for the these poor birds. Their meat was not for Pakistanis but for the Arab Royls. We should also be offering funeral prayers for the national pride of our leaders who have gave up all the national pride and dignitinity for 1.5 billion. Lets see what comes next. May be a part of Pakistan to cultivate produce for them.

shami Apr 24, 2014 02:27am

Such a beautiful creature massacred ruthlessly.

Asif Apr 24, 2014 04:38am

What a great article. If only NFP could learn to write about real issues facing Pakistan.

Husain Jan Apr 24, 2014 08:44am

@Mansoor Let's take it this way Mr Mansoor ! Many of us do not pay their taxes because of the corrupt rulers and the corrupt system. Many honest who do want to pay taxes are harassed by the tax men forcing them to save taxes by greasing their palms. The rulers also don't do any thing concrete simply because they themselves can fall in the trap. You seem to be not mindful of these facts. I can bet that if our system is good many...many would be prepared rather pleased to pay their dues.

Awais Apr 24, 2014 09:09am

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, They kill us for their sport. - Shakespeare

Dr Killjoy Apr 24, 2014 11:10am

The factual inaccuracies and random generalizations in this poor piece of writing are astounding. The Tribunization of Dawn has begun.

S Arshad Kamal Apr 24, 2014 12:04pm

Why they are so obsessed with the assumed "bustards' aphrodisiac qualities"? After all we have heart and mind also in our body, why not do something creative and pleasurable for heart and mind. Literature and Fine Arts may also have good effect on body, Spend on that also.

Roy C C Apr 24, 2014 02:15pm

What's done is done... this is not the first time nor will it be the last... as long as Pakistan's leadership and financial position are what they are, sooner or later, there will be another Royal .. , the bigger question is what can be done to protect this species?... are they people who can plan for breeding these birds?... have multiple locations for breeding, may be in places that are close to cities, making it uninteresting for safari's... may be a philanthropist can help you invest in securing a bird sanctuary where the Govt. can't provide hunting licenses... I am sure there are many more ideas.. the fight must go on....its the least we owe our feathered friends.

Mohammed A. Sukhera Apr 24, 2014 05:08pm

The bird weighs around 5 pounds and they kill over 100 birds a day, its rather impossible to eat so much meat in a day. Does anyone know what Royals do with so much Houbara meat? Thanks

vijay,salem Apr 24, 2014 07:07pm

@Atul india???

google Apr 25, 2014 06:53pm

there are many rats in an area where I used to live, they need to be killed... Kill 100 a day and get 1.5 PKR as a token.. Anyone ready ?