A society must cater to the needs and protection of those who stand at the end of the queue – the weakest, the poorest and the most vulnerable. In the kingdom of birds, the Houbara Bustard, taxonomically classified as ‘chlamydotis undulata’ could easily fall in the same category. Every year some 30,000 of these graceful birds arrive peacefully in Pakistan, enriching our harsh and arid ecosystem with their breathtaking beauty, serenity and joyful presence.
Little do these innocent birds know that for most of them, it would be the last winter of their lives. The crafty ambush predators, equipped with illegal permits issued by an un-authorised ministry are already positioned to launch a wave of terror and annihilation. These self indulgent Arab Shaikhs arrive from the opposite direction, loaded with arrogance and pomposity to kill the last bird in the sky. Their barbarity aimed exclusively towards their only dream in life – that the houbara meat might one day deliver on its aphrodisiac myth.
Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, a gentleman conspicuous by the stretch of his name and scantiness of his ethics, went on a wild rampage and killed 2000 houbara bustards in 21 days. In his search for the mythical qualities of the houbara, he ten times exceeded his hunting limit of 200 birds, mentioned in the 2 (illegal) permits that he had obtained from the foreign ministry. This is how they treat the piece of paper called a permit in Pakistan. Pakistan doled out 30 such permits (each for 100 birds) to its Arab benefactors this year. Using the same factor of fraudulence, one can estimate that some 30,000 houbara bustards must have been shot out of the skies by our Arab friends. That is almost the entire population of houbaras who made the mistake of seeking refuge in our hostile country this year.
The people of Pakistan have been deeply disgusted and pained by this barbaric annual slaughter, the cruelty and arrogance of the Arab hunters, the submissiveness and senselessness of the Pakistan government and the rapidly declining number of houbara bustards. Numerous media reports and citizens’ protests have fallen on deaf years. Finally in January 2014, a private citizen, supported by advocate Kalim Ilyas (pleading the case on pro-bono basis) moved the green bench of the Lahore High Court and prayed for a complete ban on hunting of houbara bustards. On 23 January 2014, the court directed the federal government to restrain the permit holders from hunting in Punjab and noted that the permits issued by the foreign ministry had no lawful authority.
Instead of showing any remorse, the foreign ministry decided to sleep over the court orders. It could neither place the names of 33 permit holders on court records nor did it inform the Arab Shaikhs to discontinue their unlawful hunting. On the contrary , the foreign ministry came out with lame excuses such as “administrative difficulties’ for its failure to act. The court in judgment of February 10, 2014 restrained all 33 permit holders from any further hunting till the next hearing.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources estimates the birds’ global population is at about 110,000 and declining at an annual rate of about 20 percent to 29 percent due to poaching and unregulated hunting. Pakistan in league with its Arab terminators may well be the principal reason for the accelerated and unrecorded annihilation of the endangered houbara species.
The yearly houbara carnage is not an isolated disaster for Pakistan. It is accompanied by large scale environmental degradation and lawlessness that ought not to be tolerated by any sovereign state. At the end of the killing season, there are scores of unregistered, non-duty paid, foreign license plate vehicles that the visitors leave behind as gifts, bribe or charity to the local hosts and officials. These vehicles are then for all times used in Pakistan without any registration or payment of taxes – the police being too docile to check a ‘pharren’ vehicle.
It is in this backdrop that one must acknowledge and salute our brave son of the soil, an unassuming and conscientious Jaffar Baloch, a divisional forest officer of the Balochistan forest and wildlife department. He did what all the four provincial and the Federal governments with all their secretaries and ministers could not do in the last sixty years. He simply told the truth about the façade of permits and the number of birds that are actually hunted as compared to what is stated on the papers. It is he, who exposed the misdeeds of the holy prince who annihilated 2100 birds in 20 days. It is people like Jaffer Baloch who are the real heroes of Pakistan. Jaffer Baloch and the likes of him should replace the sold-out leadership that passively sits in the wild life departments or unlawfully churns outs permits in the foreign ministry.