KARACHI: The federal government has issued special permits to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and two other members of the Saudi ruling family to hunt the internationally protected houbara bustards during the hunting season 2020-21, it is learnt.
Sources said the two other hunters are governors and one of them is a defaulter as he has not paid the hunting fees/dues for last year (hunting season 2019-20).
The sources said that the hunters had been allocated certain hunting areas in two provinces — Balochistan and Punjab.
They said that though the foreign ministry was expected to maintain the protocol and official hierarchy, the name of the most powerful person and “real” ruler of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman has been mentioned at the bottom of the list of hunters sent to the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad.
Vulnerable bird winters in Pakistan every year
A resident of the colder Central Asian region, the houbara bustard in its bid to avoid the harsh weather conditions in its habitat migrates southwards every year to spend its winters in a relatively warmer environment here where it is hunted by Arab hunters specially invited by the government.
Owing to its dwindling population, the houbara is not only protected under various international nature conservation treaties but is also protected under local wildlife protection laws. Pakistanis are not allowed to hunt it.
The sources said that earlier Prime Minister Imran Khan, when he was in the opposition, used to criticise the then federal government for issuing houbara hunting permits and had not allowed houbara hunting in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf ruled, but now has issued the permits to hunters from Saudi Arabia.
The sources said that the hunting permits issued by the foreign ministry’s deputy chief of protocol (P&I) were delivered to Saudi Embassy to be sent to the hunters.
They said that the names of the hunters and areas allotted to them, according to the permits issued on Oct 16, 2020, are:
“HRH Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, crown prince, Deputy Premier and minister of Defence has been allocated Layyah and Bhakkar districts in Punjab.
“HRH Prince Fahad bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Governor of Tabuk, has been allocated district Awaran, district Noshki (less Noshki city), and district Chaghai (excluding Nok Kundi) in Balochistan.
“HH Prince Mansour bin Mohammad S. Abdul Rehman Al-Saud, Governor of Hafr Al-Batin has been allocated Dera Ghazi Khan district in Punjab.”
Defaulter of mandatory fee
The sources said that Tabuk Governor Prince Fahad bin Sultan, who had attracted international media attention when news regarding his poaching over 2,000 houbaras was published sometime back, did not pay the mandatory houbara hunting fees of $100,000 last year. Though Prince Fahad had also brought in 60 falcons last year, he did not pay the falcon fees as well — $1,000 for each falcon totalling $60,000. The total dues to the Tabuk governor last year (hunting season 2019-20) come to $160,000, the sources added. They said Prince Fahad had arrived in Chaghai district on Feb 1, 2020.
The sources said that the houbara hunting permit clearly mentions that, “… is informed that compulsory hunting fee of one hundred thousand dollars (100,000 US$) per dignitary per area and one thousand dollars (1,000 US$) for import-cum-export of each falcon is mandatory.”
Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2020