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ISLAMABAD: The climate change ministry is seeking ways to increase support for the Houbara Bustard and Migratory Birds Endowment Fund which was formed nearly a year ago and has yet to become operational.

A board meeting of the endowment fund recently decided that Rs250 million in funds is insufficient for meeting long-term targets for the conservation of migratory birds including houbara bustards.

Officials in the ministry declined to comment on the issue, saying the hunting of hundreds of houbara bustards by Arab elites every year is a sensitive matter.

However, a source privy to the developments said the ministry will like to explore other funding opportunities. One possibility was to prepare a project for the Economic Affair Division to tap donor funding.

It was decided that all members will send written suggestions for consideration. The appointment of a fund manager is also still being discussed.

According to Deputy Inspector General Forests, Munaf Qaimkhani, one element of the endowment fund was complete, that of the government providing Rs250 million for conservation efforts.

“The second element is donor funding that has not been implemented. This is where the government will need to remind hunters of their pledges for providing money for the conservation of migratory birds, especially the houbara bustard, the excessive hunting of which is now a global concern,” DIG Qaimkhani said. He is also now a consultant for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Another ministry official said the endowment fund meetings are eye wash where officials from provincial departments meet for tea.

“Pakistan lacks commitment and resources to save migratory birds, especially houbara bustards, from over hunting. There are no studies to ascertain if conservation efforts to save and rehabilitate houbara bustards in Pakistan have borne fruit,” the senior official explained.

He was critical of one such exercise where houbara bustard are bred and raised in captivity and then released into the wild in Punjab and Balochistan.

“There are no follow up studies to ensure the survival rates of birds bred in captivity. We have reasons to believe that without survival skills, half of them perish after being exposed to the harsh environments in the wild. Most of the birds do not migrate with other migratory birds. This happened only recently when 1,000 houbara bustards were released into the wild after all the migratory birds had already returned to their native habitat in Central Asia,” he said.

He explained that a census of houbara bustards was conducted last December by nearly a dozen provincial forest departments and local and international NGOs and 6,000 of the endangered species were believed to have follow in from their breeding ground in Central Asia.

“We can only know if the threatened population of houbara bustards has recovered after the little preservation efforts after another similar census of the species in the coming December,” he said.

The Asian houbara bustard was listed as vulnerable in 2014 in the IUCN Red List of threatened species. It is included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. CITES lists those wildlife species that are threatened with extinction and prohibits their international trade in any form.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2018