Islamabad: A sharp decline in the number of migratory and houbara bustard birds has forced the government to establish a Rs. 250 million endowment fund in 2016 to protect the rare species, say officials.
The PML-N Government after making the decision to protect the birds, gave free hand to Qatar’s prince to hunt houbara bustard in Bhakkar, a district of Punjab bordering Khyber Pakhtunkhawa.
Focal Person of prime minister’s Green Pakistan Programme Rizwan Mehboob told News Lens Pakistan that a sharp decline in the number of migratory and houbara bustard birds forced the government to establish the fund. He said that the number of migratory birds making stopovers at several spots in Pakistan has dropped considerably, however, he stopped short of telling the estimated number of those birds. “The number of endangered and migratory birds that making stopovers in Pakistan has decreased from approximately 200,000 to 14,000 since the last two decades,” he added.
Dr. Arif Alvi, a PTI Member National Assembly (MNA), said that a Qatari prince Jassim (bin Jabber Al-Thani) is among the delegation of Qatari royal family who has arrived in Pakistan to hunt Houbara bustard. This welcome of Qatari royalty presents a contradiction to the move by Pakistan government to allocate a Rs. 250 million endowment fund in 2016 to protect the rare species which are on the verge of extinction due to poaching and destruction of its habitats.
Alvi said leaders are placing the country’s resources and beauty under the feet of Qatari princes, which is very shocking. The government is of the opinion that Houbara bustard is not endangered while the entire world is convinced that the bird is on the verge of extinction, he added. “The government has issued wrong statements and mounted pressure to get a decision from the Supreme Court in its favor regarding limited hunting of the bird,” he claimed.
A Houbara bustard is declared ‘vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of nature (IUCN). It arrives in Pakistan in winter months from Central Asia and China. According to Wild Life Rules and Act of Pakistan, a study compiled by Muhammad Shafiq, deputy conservator (Wildlife) Pakistan Forest Institute 2005, wildlife is a main component of Pakistan’s biological diversity and an important renewable natural resource.
An official at the Ministry of Climate Change who wished anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak to media told News Lens Pakistan that the strength of Asian Houbara is experiencing a steady decline because of poaching and sabotaging their habitats.
Illegal poaching and other factors such as damaging their habitat, Mehboob said have contributed to dramatic decline in the number of migratory birds.
According to UNDP “Forests and Biodiversity Information/Data Report” Pakistan is a forest poor country. Only 4.72 million hectares or 5.36 per cent of its land mass is covered with forests. This compares unfavorably with several other countries of the region; Malaysia 65.5, Sri Lanka 42.4, India 23.7, China 17.7 and Bangladesh 15.3 per cent.
A senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who wished to go unnamed because the ministry’s officials do not speak on the poaching subject as wealthy Arab Sheikhs from Gulf countries are awarded specific areas in Pakistan for hunting of endangered Houbara bustards.
However, the official said a number of Arab Sheikhs from Gulf States such as Al-Thani of Qatar and well-off Pakistanis have been poaching migratory and Houbara bustards’ birds for years.
Dr Ejaz Ahmad of WWF Pakistan said “Arab dignitaries are coming every year to hunt Houbara through their falcon which is their traditional game.” The population of such birds in most of the Middle Eastern countries has reduced and they started hunting in other countries, he recalled. “Mostly different areas are allocated to various dignitaries for Houbara hunting and normally they are from royal families,” he added.
In a recent move, media noted that many farmers of district Bhakkar came out and protest against Houbara bustard killing. These residents claim that they are forced into staying away from their fields for weeks sometimes while the hunting is on. Chickpea is the cash crop of Bhakkar and farmers have been complaining of their ruin owing to racing SUV’s while the birds are hunted.
Alvi said he is the first man to raise voice on the floor of Pakistan’s National Assembly against hunting of houbara. “I view all these things (Panama Leaks, Qatari royal family visit to hunt houbara) interlinked,” he added.
According to media reports, the former Qatari prime minister Al-Thani recently sent a letter dated November 5, 2016— marked private, confidential and not to be disclosed to any party, except for the benefit of the courts of Pakistan. The letter was written on the letterhead of Al Thani, which is viewed by analysts an attempt to salvage the beleaguered Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif amid Panama Leaks case in the Supreme Court.
Alt-Thani also known as HBJ is known as one of the most wealthiest and controversial figure in the media. He was the Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister until he stepped down from the post in June 2013.
Pakistan’s media has been skeptical of Al-Thani’s role in the recent political events. Provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) has objected to government’s action in providing special hunting licenses to Qatari prince. Upon request by the federal government to allow Qatari prince to hunt in KPK, the PTI led provincial government resisted. Istiaq Armer, KPK provincial advisor on environment spoke to media vowing that a ban was strictly observed against killing of houbara bustard and the (provincial) government will not allow the Qatari princes to hunt Houbara Bustard.
If unchecked hunting, illegal trapping and trading of the bird continue at the existing scale, the Asian houbara could extinct within 15 to 25 years, according to a study conducted by the Environment Research and Wildlife Development Agency. The Agency estimates that the natural death rate of the bird was 3.28 percent while death due to hunting accounted for more than 73 per cent. The rate of hunting has reached nearly 20.8 per cent, dangerously exceeding the acceptable 7.2 per cent.
Allowing endangered specie to perish for diplomatic gains is unfortunate. According to Mehboob, “The fund will help develop conservation, breeding initiatives for migratory birds and Houbara bustards, their habitats and protected areas and ecosystems.” But the government would have to stop being a party to, what could be a crime against biodiversity.