Qatari royals arrested over illegal houbara hunting

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Four Qatari royals have been arrested for attempting to hunt an endangered species of bird without permits in Pakistan, officials said.

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

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

The party had arrived in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, on December 4, according to the official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the case.

Officials carried out 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.” The official did not elaborate on the nature of the misbehaviour.

Hunting the Asian houbara is an exclusive and diplomatically important sideline for Pakistan, which sells access to the birds to the Arab elite. 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.

Visitors regularly include kings, ministers, generals and princes, giving Pakistan invaluable political access to Gulf dignitaries at play.

The houbara is classed as vulnerable to extinction, however, and appears on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list of threatened species.

Hunting advocates in Pakistan argue 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 , 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 however. The Supreme Court banned the sport outright in 2015, before reversing the decision only months later. The resumption was widely seen as an acknowledgement of how important the sport is to relations with the Gulf monarchies. Punjab, one of the provinces which hosts the sport, is currently nearing the end of a three-year study into its sustainability.

Updated: December 11, 2019 06:13 PM

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