Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 28 January 2020

Qatari royals arrested over illegal houbara hunting

Group held in Pakistan for hunting protected birds without permits

Houbara bustards are a vulnerable species. Pawan Singh / The National 
Houbara bustards are a vulnerable species. Pawan Singh / The National 

Four Qatari royals have been arrested in Pakistan for trying to hunt an endangered species of bird without permits, officials said.

The royals were in a group of seven Qataris arrested by police after trying to sneak into the desert to hunt the houbara bustard, a prized prey for falconers.

The royals were identified by a local paper as Sheikh Mohammed bin Mansour, Sheikh Khalid bin Ali, Sheikh Abdullah bin Jasim and Sheikh Ahmed bin Ali. A senior official confirmed the incident to The National.

The party arrived in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, on December 4, the official said.

Officials conducted routine checks on the party, prompted by their arrival in the winter hunting season, and found they did not have permits.

“On December 9 they quietly left the hotel and went to the desert near the Nushki area where they were further questioned by local wildlife officials for coming without licences and permission,” the official said.

“They also misbehaved with the wildlife department staff in that area. Later, the administration was called and a case was lodged against them.”

Hunting the Asian houbara is an exclusive and diplomatically important sideline for Pakistan.

As previous hunting grounds in Iraq and Syria have become unsafe for visitors, and numbers have dwindled elsewhere, Pakistan has become a sought-after destination.

Wildlife officials say permits regulated by the Foreign Office cost $100,000 (Dh367,000) for access to a desert hunting ground and another $100,000 for permission to catch and kill 100 birds. Hunters must also pay a levy on each falcon they bring in.

But the houbara is classifed as vulnerable to extinction and appears on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list of threatened species.

Hunting advocates in Pakistan say the permit system funds conservation and also brings much-needed development to some of the poorest parts of the country.

The houbara migrates widely across the Middle East and Central Asia, and has been the subject of several conservation programmes in the UAE.

Various schools from Dubai, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi participated in the release of 48 houbaras to represent the 48th UAE National Day. Victor Besa / The National 
Various schools from Dubai, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi participated in the release of 48 houbaras to represent the 48th UAE National Day. Victor Besa / The National 

A breeding scheme was launched by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE, in the late 1970s and the first captive-bred houbara was hatched in 1982.

Birds have been released in Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan in an attempt to bolster numbers hit by unregulated hunting and poaching.

Hunting remains controversial in Pakistan. The Supreme Court banned the sport outright in 2015, before reversing the decision months later.

The resumption was widely seen as an acknowledgement of the sport's importance to relations with other countries.

Punjab, one of the provinces that hosts the sport, is nearing the end of a three-year study into its sustainability.

Updated: December 12, 2019 03:29 AM

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