Foreigners endanger houbaras


ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Environment will take up the matter of the allocation of the Houbara Bustard hunting areas to foreigners with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister.
A source in the Ministry of Environment told Pakistan Today that for several years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was allocating Houbara Bustard hunting areas to foreigners, particularly to the sons of Arab royal families, without taking permission from the Provincial Wildlife Department and the Environment Ministry.
The source said that the matter was also taken up in a recently held meeting of the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW) that was chaired by Federal Environment Minister Hameed Ullah Jan Afridi. The representatives of the Federal Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Food, Agriculture, Livestock and Dairy Development also participated in the said meeting.
Environment Minister, who is also the chairman of the council, expressed his anger about the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the allocation of the Houbara Bustard hunting areas, saying that his ministry and the provincial wildlife departments were discouraging hunting to save various animals and birds from extinction,” a source from the department told Pakistan Today.
An official of the Punjab Wildlife Department, seeking not to be named said that the actual issue was not between the Ministry of Environment and the Foreign Affairs Ministry. “The provincial government wants to have the authority to allocate hunting areas to earn money as well as to develop relations with Arab royals. The federal government however, argued that the matter deals with Pakistan’s relations with other countries, thus it is a federal subject.”
Foreigners, particularly members of royal families from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, visit the Cholistan desert in Bahawalpur, Rahimyar Khan and the deserts of Layyah, Bhakkar, Rajan Pur and some districts of Balochistan, every year on a hunting spree of the Houbara bird.
An official from the Punjab Wildlife Department told Pakistan Today that the servants of Arab royal families had started camping in the Cholistan desert.
Some officials of the Punjab Wildlife Department and the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife claim that the widespread hunting and the loss of habitat have greatly reduced the Houbara bird’s existence. They claim that according to some scientific studies, their populations have dropped by 40% since 2005, and the bird could be facing extinction within the next 15 – 25 years, if unsustainable trade and hunting continue.
Talking to Pakistan Today, Bahawalpur Wildlife Deputy Director Nasar Hayat said that camping had started in Cholistan and the hunting of the Houbara Bastard would start in upcoming months. He admitted that there were disagreements between the federal and provincial governments over the authority of allocating hunting areas.
When contacted, IG Forests Syed Mehmood Nasir said that there was an issue between the Ministry of Environment and the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Pakistan Today tried to contact the federal minister and the secretary environment, as well as the Wildlife Conservator Umeed Khalid, but they were not available to comment on the issue.