by Lady Michelle-Jennifer Santos
QUETTA, February 9, 2015 (TSR) – A Saudi prince is on hunting spree for rare Houbara Bustards birds in Balochistan despite a court-imposed ban and the government’s insistence that the foreign delegation is only on a diplomatic mission, senior officials said Monday.
The annual hunt has sparked controversy in recent years because the houbara bustard is included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “red list” of threatened species, estimating a dwindling number fewer than 97,000 left globally.
The controversy is now shining a spotlight on traditionally close ties between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
A provincial high court in Baluchistan in November last year cancelled all permits for hunting in the province before the arrival of the Saudi prince and his companions, but since reaching Pakistan last week the party has been allowed to hunt unimpeded, three officials have confirmed to AFP.
The provincial government has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the ban to seek a formal permission for the Royal guests to hunt, but the hearing has not been fixed.
On Wednesday, the Saudi governor for Tabuk Prince Fahad bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud arrived at the Dalbandin Airport in Chagai district on a special plane. He was received by Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Provincial Minister Mujeebur Rehman Mohammed Hassani and MPA Amanullah Notezai before being driven to his camp in Ek Mach.
According to sources in the Forest Department, the Saudi Prince started hunting in the Ek Mach desert on Thursday morning.
“He had started hunting in Gutt Game Century in the Ek Mach area of Chagai,” an official said on condition of anonymity.
A day after a Saudi prince arrived in Balochistan to hunt Houbara Bustards, the provincial government on Thursday challenged orders of the Balochistan High Court in the Supreme Court (SC) which banned hunting of the rare birds, a senior official of the Balochistan government told The Express Tribune.
According to an official of the Balochistan government, the Forest Department of Balochistan filed the petition in the SC challenging the BHC’s orders to cancel allotments to Arab dignitaries, as well as a ban on hunting Houbara bustards.
Secretary Forest Department Balochistan, Khuda-e-Rahem, thogugh, refused to comment on the issue maintaining that the matter is sub-judice.
In November, 2014, the high court had cancelled permits granted to foreigners — including Arab royals – for hunting the rare birds. All allotments of areas to the royal families for hunting were cancelled by the court.
A second official in the paramilitary Balochistan Levies and an official at the forest department also confirmed that they were aware of the hunting.
“Arab dignitaries are engaged in hunting houbara bustard but our staff are not allowed to have access to their camp or accompany the hunting party. There is no knowledge that how many birds have been hunted,” the official said.
The government for its part has denied that the Saudi party is engaged in hunting, saying that they had come to oversee development activities.
“They have other kind of activities like inspecting Arab-funded development schemes and meeting tribal elders of the area as part of good will”, minister for forest and wildlife Obaidullah Babat, told reporters last week.
Most officials in Balochistan refused to give details as to why the Saudi Prince was allowed to hunt the rare bird despite orders from the high court.
Last year, a prince hunted as many as 2,100 Houbara Bustards contrary to the terms of his license which allows 100 Bustards during a ten day trip.
In that season, as many as 29 Arab dignitaries were allowed to hunt in different parts of Balochistan by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Houbara Bustard have been included in the list of endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Arab princes have been hunting in the Chagai district for at least four decades now.
The issue has stirred controversy on social media and among youth activists in the restive province, where a separatist insurgency has been simmering since 2004 and many are critical of the government’s policies, including its ties to ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia.
Up to 40 youth activists from Chaghi district protested in front of Quetta Press Club against the hunting of houbara bustard on Friday.
They chanted slogans against the provincial government and demanded the expulsion of the Arab hunting parties from the province.
Sources: Local News agencies