Islamabad: The Apex Court on Friday lifted a ban on the hunting of the Houbara Bustard (tiloor), a rare desert bird that migrates to Pakistan every year for around six months. A five-member larger bench of the Supreme Court announced the verdict on federal and provincial governments review petitions against the court’s verdict on the ban on hunting of Houbara bustard.
The controversy regarding hunting of the Houbara Bustard arose after a divisional forest officer of the Balochistan forest and wildlife department filed a report claiming that an Arab Royal hunted 2,100 Houbara Bustards in a 21-day hunting safari in Chagai, Balochistan. The veracity of this report was questioned by experts in falconry as it is impossible to hunt so many birds with just a handful of falcons. The whole affair seemed to be a classic case of misinformation. The matter got even more controversial as political parties chipped in and politicized the issue.
However, contrary to popular misconception, a complete ban on hunting Houbara was neither in the interest of Pakistan, nor did it serve any useful purpose in conserving the Houbara’s population. It is also pertinent to mention that the ban on hunting of the Houbara had triggered protests in many backward areas of the country as locals feared that the ban will dry up the investments and cease the massive development work that many Middle Eastern countries had undertaken in these areas. It is pertinent to mention that sustainable hunting is an internationally recognized conservational tool. Limited permits/licenses for hunting threatened species are brought by falconers at very higher prices. Money received from sale of such hunting permits is subsequently distributed among the local community that resides within the bird’s habitat. The distribution of money acts as an incentive for the local community to protect the birds and promote their breeding.
A long term blanket ban could actually have proved to be disastrous for the survival of the Houbara. Conservation efforts are also the most top priority of the falconers. The United Arab Emirates-based International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) last year released 600 adult Houbaras in the Lal Suhanra National Park in Punjab’s Bahawalpur district. Numerous other similar programmes have been initiated in Pakistan during the past decades that are funded by falconers from the Middle East. It is largely due to such efforts that the Houbara population has been stable since 2004.
The verdict by the Apex Court, which will allow sustainable hunting of the bird is a welcome move as it would not only greatly help the government in improving bilateral diplomatic ties with Middle Eastern countries and result in the continuation of the welfare development projects carried out by Middle Eastern countries in the respective areas but also improve conservational efforts of the Houbara and other rare birds. At the same time individuals in Pakistan who warmly and cordially host the Arab dignitaries during their hunting expeditions must also be appreciated for their services. Their efforts and hospitality have not only added warmth and depth in Pakistan’s relations with Arab countries but have also tremendously helped in the economic development of backward communities.