KARACHI: In a first of sorts, a record number of over 2,100 internationally protected houbara bustards have been hunted down by one Saudi Prince- Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud during a 21-day hunting safari in Chagai, Balochistan. This included illegal hunting in protected areas.
Dawn News reports that information about this unbelievable hunting expedition is contained in a report titled ‘Visit of Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud regarding hunting of houbara bustard’ prepared by Jaffar Baloch, divisional forest officer of the Balochistan forest and wildlife department, Chagai at Dalbandin. According to this report, the prince hunted for 21 days – from Jan 11, 2014 to Jan 31– and hunted 1,977 birds, while other members of his party hunted an additional 123 birds, bringing the total bustard toll to 2,100, sources said.
The houbara bustards is listed as an endangered species and is widely prized in Arabia as a quarry for falconers particularly because its meat is valued as an aphrodisiac.
Although the birds are officially protected in Pakistan, VIP visitors from the Gulf are allowed to hunt the rare bird that conservationists warn is at risk of extinction.
While the practice has been for the Pakistan government to issue hunting permits to individual members of royalty with a cap of 100 birds per person, a report published by the The Nation last month that said members of the Punjab Assembly were informed on 17 Mar 2014, that royalty from the Arab world do not even need licenses to hunt the Houbara Bustard in Pakistan created quite a stir. It said, “only areas are specified, and this is the licence to kill the bird which conservationists believe is among the endangered species.”
Dawn News had later carried a report that said, through a written reply from the Foreign Office (FO), the Pakistan government had admitted in the National Assembly on Thursday, 27th Mar 2014 that it had allowed 13 members of the royal family of United Arab Emirates (UAE) to hunt 1,300 houbara bustards, a protected species in the country, the hunting of which is altogether banned in neighbouring India.
In response to a question asked by Naeema Kishwar Khan of the JUI-F (Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl-ur- Rehman) the FO said, “In total 13 members of the UAE royal family visited Pakistan during 2012-13 for the sole purpose of hunting during which they were allowed to hunt a maximum of 100 birds (each).”
However, in the latest instance, the Saudi Prince appears to have thrown all the rules and regulations to the wind. Dawn News reports that permits, which are person specific and cannot be used by anyone else, allow the holders to hunt up to100 houbara bustards in 10 days in the area allocated, excluding reserved and protected areas.
But, according to the report of the Balochistan forest department dated Feb 4, 2014 (No: 216-219 HB/CHI), the prince hunted for a full 21 days, going well beyond the limit of 10 days and during this expedition, he spent a bulk of 15 days illegally killing the endangered species in the reserved and protected areas, which was beyond his scope. He then poached birds in other areas for six days and rested for two days.
A date-wise and area-wise break-up of the details of the prince’s expedition shows that he hunted 112 houbara bustards in the Gut game sanctuary (Arbe pat) which is a reserved and protected area on Jan 11, 2014.
The next two days on Jan 12 and 13th he hunted 116 and 93 birds in the Gut game sanctuary (Sai Rek) which is also a reserved and protected area. Then for the next two days Prince Fahd, who is also governor of Tabuk, visited Sato Gut and hunted 82 and 80 houbaras on Jan 14 and 15, respectively. On Jan 16, he visited Gut-i-Barooth and hunted 79 houbaras. Both these areas are not protected areas, says the report.
For the next six days the Saudi royal camped in the Koh-i-Sultan state forest, which is a reserved and protected area, and hunted 93, 82, 94, 97, 96 and 120 houbara bustards on Jan 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22, respectively.
On Jan 23 and 24, he continued his hunting spree in the Gut game sanctuary (Dam), which is a reserved as well as protected area, and hunted 116 and 197 houbara bustards, respectively.
The prince carried out hunting of the protected bird in Thalo Station and hunted 89 houbara bustards on Jan 25 and spent the next two days hunting the birds in Pul Choto, killing 34 and 89 birds on Jan 26 and 27, respectively. Both of these areas are neither reserved nor protected, says the report.
The remaining four days, Prince Fahd spent in the Gut game sanctuary, a reserved as well as protected area, and hunted 92, 94, 119 and 97 birds on Jan 28, 29, 30, and 31, respectively. The royal guest took rest on Feb 1 and 2 at the Bar Tagzai base camp after bringing the grand total of his trophies to 1,977.
The report says: “123 birds were hunted by local representatives and other labourers of the hunting party.”
The final tally brought the total number of bustards hunted by Prince Fahd bin Abdul Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud to an unthinkable 1,977. And with the additional 123 birds hunted by his accompanying party the total number of houbara bustards hunted by the team in one stretch stands at an unprecedented 2100.
The houbara bustard is regarded as the provincial bird of Balochistan. A team of researchers found that, from 1998 to 2001, Houbara numbers dropped 63% in China, 60% in Kazakhstan, and 50% in Oman.