Hunting Bustards of Pakistan is one of the favourite delectations of the affluent and resourceful Arabs, who like to hunt the bird both as a sport and because its meat is regarded as an aphrodisiac, a food that they believe stimulates one’s sexual desire.
Every year, as creeping winters result in a dramatic fall in mercury, thousands of Houbara Bustard birds, also known as Asian Houbara, migrate from the cold temperatures of Central Asia to the warmth of the desert region of Southern Pakistan.
However, the migration of the birds also brings with it a posse of wealthy Arab princes and their friends in search of their quarry to Pakistan, thereby providing an opportunity to Islamabad to engage in “soft diplomacy”. Most of these Arabs, belonging to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates travel in their private jets to Pakistan for their hunting expedition.
As per Arabic traditions, hunting of Bustards has been in practice for more than thousands of years ago. Arabs apparently believe that the Bustard meat has a mythical quality of enhancing one’s virility.
Pakistani authorities issue special licenses to Arab elites for Bustard hunting
Even though the hunting of Asian Bustard is banned in Pakistan, the government issues 25-35 permits annually to wealthy sheiks, allowing them an opportunity to hunt the bird in its winter habitat. The species is listed as vulnerable and is on the verge of extinction as per various international wildlife organizations. But this has not stopped Pakistan from pandering to the desires of the Arab elites from the neighbouring countries.
The hunting parties are given the ceiling limit of hunting 100 Asian Houbara in the span of a 10-day period, but more often than not they exceed their quota. In 2014, as per a report published in The Dawn, a staggering 2,100 Houbara were hunted down by the Arab entourage. The report had forced the Pakistani authorities to impose a “temporary moratorium” on hunting, but hunting permits were quietly issued for the winter season later that year.
The next year, in August 2015, the Supreme Court ordered a blanket ban on hunting in Pakistan. But it had no effect on the hunting of the Asian Houbara as flouting of norms, including court directives, has become par for the course in Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities, in their bid to indulge Arab demands, issued “partridge hunting” licenses to Arab royals instead and the hunting of the Houbara continued unabated.
Hunting Houbara Bustards used as foreign policy tool by Pakistani government
However, within a span of few months, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in January 2016, lifted the ban on the hunting of Asian Houbara after the Pakistani government contended that hunting Houbara is the “cornerstone” of Pakistan’s relationship with its middle-eastern Arab elites.
Pakistanis are not allowed to hunt this bird. However, the hunting of Houbara bustard is used as a foreign policy tool by the Pakistan government, which allows influential nationals of the Arabian Gulf nations to hunt the bird for a price tag of approximately $100,000.
Bustard hunting continues unabated even as locals and animal conservationists protests against it
Farmers and locals in the region have been massively disrupted by the hunting raids carried out by the Arabs since their trips often result in grave damages to their produce in the fields. Despite them raising concerns with regard to the hunting trips carried out by the Arab elites, Pakistani authorities have turned a blind eye to their grievances, giving a short shrift to their complaints.
Likewise, Environmentalists and Animal conservationists in Pakistan, who are also a vanishing species in the country much like the Asian Houbara, have vigorously opposed the hunting raids organized by wealthy Arabs. But their opposition had little effect in upending the unfortunate luck of the beleaguered bird.