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Two of 11 falcons die in customs custody

KARACHI, Dec 11: Of the 11 falcons of highly rare and endangered species which have been in the custody of Pakistan Customs for the past three weeks, at least two have died, it emerged on Tuesday.

Sources said the entire flock had become sick and two of them died one after the other within a couple of days.

A high-ranking official of the customs confirmed to Dawn the deaths in the past few days.

He claimed that proper medical treatment was being provided to the entire flock by the veterinarians and that the birds had been vaccinated and were still being looked after by technically qualified people. “Dr Abdul Ghani Khan and Dr Altaf Gohar have examined the birds and the treatment is being given under their guidance,” said the official.

He said that one of the sick birds was taken to a clinic. A report issued by the doctor diagnosed “nasal discharge, green diarrhoea, rupture of liver, enteritis”.

The official said that post-mortem examinations of the two birds were conducted and reports were awaited.

The sources said the 11 falcons were seized from Saeed Ahmed while a team of customs officials were conducting random checks on vehicles near an Imambargah in DHA Phase IV on Nov 21. While Mr Ahmad could not show any official document related to the falcons, the following day he presented a permit issued by the Sindh wildlife department stating that the falcons belonged to a United Arab Emirates national, Demiathan Sowaidan Saeed Hilal, and allowing Saeed Ahmed to keep 10 falcons in his possession for training purposes. The SWD confirmed the issuance of the permit, but showed inability to give any further details about the falcons.

UAE connection

The sources said that Saeed Ahmed later presented a photocopy of a letter (No. ref: 1/6/25-1631 dated Nov 27, 2012) with the subject “Undertaking / Certificate” of the consulate general of the UAE in Karachi, certifying that (10) falcons had been brought by Demaithan Sowaidan Saeed Hilal, party member of Sheikh Rashid bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum, member of ruling family of Dubai, to the customs.

The sources said that after receiving the letter the customs then approached the UAE consulate general to provide details of the arrival of Demaithan Sowaidan Saeed Hilal, including flight number, arrival at airport, rings / passport number of the 10 falcons.

However, they said, the consulate general did not respond despite the lapse of a reasonable time.

Amjad Zafar of the UAE consulate general then informed the customs over the phone that the consulate had withdrawn the above referred letter, the sources said.

They added that since live falcons were used to natural environment and vulnerable to contagious/ viral infections and diseases, the customs seized the birds and issued a show-cause notice, as import, export or to be in possession of live foreign falcons (wildlife species) without valid import/ export authorisation was restricted and deemed to be an offence under Section 16 of the Customs Act, 1969. The offence is punishable under Clause 9 of Section 156 (1) ibid read with Export Policy Order-2009 notified vide SRO No 767 (1) dated Sept 4, 2009 issued under Section 3 (1) of Imports and Exports Control Act 1950.

The show-cause notice issued on Dec 5, 2012 by Customs Deputy Collector Omar Shafique called upon Saeed Ahmed and Semaithan Sowaidan Saeed Hilal to reply, in writing, within two days as to why the seized falcons should not be confiscated and any action as stipulated in the law be initiated against him for violating the aforementioned provisions of law.

Meanwhile, a case was filed by Saeed Ahmed in the Sindh High Court. The bench hearing the case restricted the customs authorities from releasing the falcons in the wild and asked the petitioner to submit response to the show-cause notice issued to him.

Expressing concern over the death of the two rare species falcons, conservationists have urged the authorities to settle the issue quickly before any more migratory falcons of the endangered species died. They also demanded a probe to find out if predatory birds were / are being properly looked after in the customs custody.