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Saudi royals flock in search of Houbara Bustards

Shezad Baloch

QUETTA: As temperatures begin to drop below freezing point in Siberia by the start of next month, an estimated 500,000 to a million Houbara Bustard birds will use Balochistan as a transit route while they migrate to warmer climes in central and south Asia.

As the birds head to Balochistan, so too do royal families from the Gulf countries, who hunt the endangered species. In April this year, officials revealed that Saudi Prince Fahd bin Sultan and others in his party killed 2,100 birds during a three-week vacation in the Chagai district in January.

Hunting is allowed through falconry in Pakistan but the World Wide Fund for Nature says the royal hunters use firearms that are prohibited by law. “These royal families come here and wreak havoc with the wildlife in Pakistan,” said WWF’s head Yahya Musakhail. He explained that hunting these birds is only allowed in Pakistan whereas the birds are internationally protected.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues permits and allocates hunt areas to 17 Arab dignitaries each hunting season. Permit holders can hunt up to ten birds in one day, but only in the specified areas. Districts like Turbat, Dera Bugti and Panjgur are off-limits to the royals after one camp was attacked by separatists in Kech last year, an official said. Musakhail says the royal families have killed 270 birds in Musakhel district and 250 in Qila Saifullah this year alone.

“This is a common practice in some districts of Balochistan but it was the first time that the report of a District Forest Officer was highlighted nationally and internationally,” said a senior official of the Balochistan Forest Department.

“We requested our superiors to stop this practice as these birds are already endangered,” said another official who corroborated Baloch’s account and wished to remain anonymous. Baloch says now he is not authorised to speak with the media or comment on the hunting practices.

Royal families from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain have been allocated hunting areas in Balochistan for decades. “The royals are welcomed by local tribal elders and representatives here as they distribute food, money and Hajj tickets among the locals,” an official within the Forest Department said. The Forest Department claims Prince Fahd spent an estimated Rs1 million during his last visit to Balochistan and has had a separate airport constructed for his annual visits.

However, the WWF claims that the largesse distributed by these royals do not reach the locals. “The money they distribute goes to influential people and their well-wishers,” says Musakhail. While Prince Fahd has established a mosque and a hospital in Chagai’s Dalbandin area, there are not enough doctors or technical staff here and even minor cases are referred to hospitals in Quetta.

Thus the WWF seeks to completely ban the hunting of the birds or force the hunters to adhere to the law which caps the number of birds they can hunt. However, due to a lack of resources, the Forest Department is unable to keep checks on the hunters. “Only Rs5 million was allocated to the entire Balochistan Forest Department during this fiscal year,” says Director of the Balochistan Forest Department Taj Mohamed Rind. “We don’t even have a vehicle that staff can use to monitor the hunters.”

Rind is hopeful that legislative changes will curb excessive hunting. Under the Wildlife Act 1974, a DFO can issue a fine of Rs500 if there is a violation of the hunting laws and the case is referred to a magistrate. However, under the recently enacted Balochistan Wildlife Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management Act, 2014, the DFO has the power of a magistrate and can impose a sizeable fine or send any violators behind bars.

Hunting season 2013-2014

According to list The Express Tribune has obtained, 17 Arab dignitaries hold permits for the following areas for the 2013-2014 hunting season, commencing next month:

Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, Crown Prince, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence of Saudi Arabia was allocated district Dera Bugti, Dera Murad Jamali, Nasirabad, Jaffarabad and Duki in Loralai district.

Prince Fahd in Chagai, Awaran and Naushki districts, Shaikh Ebrahim Bin Hamad Bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa, uncle of Kingof Bahrain was allocated Mastung district.

Marshal Shaikh Khalifa Bin Ahmed-Al Khalifa, Commander-in-Chief of Bahrain Defence Forces was allocated Tehsil Toisar of district Musakhel.

Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zahed Al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi was allocated district Zhob, Ormara, Pasni in Gwadar, Kharan (excluding Nag Dera breeding area), Panjgur and Washuk.

Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Vice President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai was allocated Khuzdar and Lesbela district.

Gen. Shaikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forces was allocated Tehsil Lehri of district Sibi (only Domki area).

Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Ruler’s Representative of the Western Region, UAE was allocated Tehsil Lehri of district Sibi (not Domki area) old Ketchi and Sani Shoran of district Bolan.

Shaikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, member of the ruling family, UAE was allocated district Qila Saifullah and Kakar Khurasan.

Shaikh Mohammed Hilal Bin Tarraf Al-Mansoori, UAE was allocated Samungali area.

Shaikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Brother of the Emir of State of Qatar, was allocated Tehsil Musakhel and Tehsil Drug indistrict Musakhel. The same family Shaikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabber Al-Thani, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the state of Qatar was allocated a hunting area in Sub Division Muslim Bagh of District Qila Saifullah.

Shiekh Mohammed BinKhalifa Al-Thani, uncle of the Emir of the state of Qatar was allocated area in district Loralai (excluding Duki Tehsil).

Sheikh Ali Bin Abdullah Thani Al-Thani, Member of the Supreme Council of the Royal Family of the state of Qatar was allocated district Turbat (Kech).Sheikh Thani Bin AbdulAziz Al-Thani,member of the Royal Family of the state of Qatar was allocated Tehsil Surab of district Kalat.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Ali Bin Abdullah Bin Thani Al-Thani, member of the ruling family of the state of Qatar was allocated Tehsil Kingri in district Musakhel and Barkhan.

Sheikh Falah BinJassim Bin Jabor Al-Thani, Borther of the former Prime Minister of the state of Qatar was allocated hunting area of Jhal Magsi.

Courtesy: Express Tribune

Republished in The Balochistan Point on 18th September, 2014.

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