By Umer Farooq
PESHAWAR: Soon after fining a Qatari prince for hunting with falcons, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has stepped up its efforts to protect rare species of the province. New rules have been devised for foreigners traveling to the region for their hunting fix.
“Hunting/caging wildlife (both birds and animals) is not allowed without a proper permit duly issued by the chief conservator of wildlife/forests,” read an official document of the home department, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune.
Officials said foreigners, specifically from the gulf countries, were visiting parts of K-P and hunting illegally. They claimed rare species were being driven to the point of extinction by the Arab royalty.
“No one could stop or question their hunting activities in the past as they were accompanied by people from the federal government,” said a government official, requesting anonymity. The official added he could not speak for the other provinces, but added clear directives had been issued by the K-P government to put an end to illegal hunting.
He said the provincial government has circulated additional directions to the relevant officials and afforded them an open hand when dealing with those violating the law. Adviser to K-P Chief Minister on Environment Ishtiaq Urmar could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.
On March 10, the K-P Ministry of Environment fined a Qatari prince Rs80,000 after he was caught hunting with three falcons in DI Khan.
Princes of Gulf States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are enthusiastic hunters and travel to Pakistan every year to hunt the endangered houbara bustard. The bird’s dwindling numbers has sparked a furor among wildlife conservationists and government officials, while also mildly testing the close bond between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Hunting of the houbara bustard is banned under the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) of Flora & Fauna. On a local level, hunting the rare species is also barred by the government under Martial Law Order 292, which has been protected by the Constitution.
Earlier in the year, the K-P government declined the Foreign Ministry’s request to relax rules on the hunting of the houbara bustard and the law pertaining to the use of falcons. The request was once again aimed at facilitating the Middle-Eastern royalty. “We believe that no one is above the law,” K-P Green Growth Initiative Chairman and former state minister for environment Malik Mian Aslam asserted at the time.
The bird is also hunted in the thousands by Royal princes in the forest and wildlife reserve areas of Chagai and Dalbandin in Balochistan as well as Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur and DG Khan in Punjab. Last year, Saudi Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz led a hunting party to Balochistan that killed more than 2,000 bustards.
Though hunting the houbara bustard is banned, authorities issue special permits to the wealthy Arabs. According to the rules, permit holders can hunt up to a maximum of 100 of endangered species over a period of 10 days and that too in specified areas.