Pakistan regulates falconry as Arab hunting forays loom

A new law passed by Sindh province to protect the threatened Asian houbara bustard bird will boost diplomatic relations with Gulf states. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 November 2020

Pakistan regulates falconry as Arab hunting forays loom

  • Every winter, thousands of the houbara bustard migrate to Pakistani deserts

KARACHI: With the annual hunting season for the houbara bustard bird beginning in Pakistan next month, the country’s southern Sindh province has moved to regulate the practice of falconry, including that parties arriving mostly from Arab states pay $100,000 to hunt 100 of the rare desert birds over a 10-day period.

Every winter, thousands of the houbara bustard migrate from Central Asia to the warmth of Pakistani deserts in Sindh province. Their arrival sets off another migration, with scores of wealthy Gulf Arab residents descending on Pakistan for falconry, the practice of hunting wild animals in their natural state or habitat, with the help of a trained bird of prey.

Local communities benefit from the hobby, the government argues, with hunters channeling cash — via hunting permit fees and jobs — into remote corners of the country where the bird is found.

In September this year, Sindh passed a new law, the Sindh Wildlife Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management Act of 2020, to boost falconry and prevent “harmful” practices such as hunting during the breeding season.

“Previously, there was no code of conduct explained in the old law; however, in the new law it is fully explained,” Javed Mahar, the conservator at the Sindh Wildlife Department, told Arab News.

Under the new law, a foreign dignitary or his state would be required to file a hunting permit request with the Pakistani foreign office, which would then be forwarded to the wildlife department.

The provincial wildlife department would issue hunting permits to foreign dignitaries only on the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mahar added: “A foreign hunting party will pay $100,000 for hunting 100 houbara bustards in 10 days’ time.”

“The request is received by the government in writing, from a dignitary or his state or forwarded through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan,” the new law reads.

The foreign office did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2015, the Supreme Court placed a ban on hunting the houbara bustard. The government at the time, of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, asked the court to review the ban because it was damaging Pakistan’s relations with Gulf states, key investors in the country. It argued that sustainable hunting of the bustard was the best means of conservation.

The court lifted the ban in 2016.

But conservationists say that the bird is at risk of extinction if hunting continues.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the bustard as a vulnerable species with a global population of between 50,000 and 100,000. It has almost vanished on the Arabian Peninsula.

But Pakistani officials say that the new law will both boost diplomatic relations with Gulf states and set better hunting precedents.

“This healthy practice will help in boosting diplomatic relations,” Pakistan Falconry Association President Kamran Khan Yousafzai said. “It is good that falconry has been regulated in Sindh,” he added, saying that the new regulations would help local communities and conservation efforts.

“The pattern can be derived from markhor trophy hunting, which diverts 70 percent of its earnings to uplift local communities and conservation whereas only 30 percent goes to the government,” he said, referring to hunting licenses auctioned each year for the rare long-horned goat native to Pakistan.

However, the World Wide Fund for Nature — Pakistan said that hunting permits for the bustard should only be issued based on population viability confirmed through credible research.

“The global population of the threatened Asian houbara bustard is continuously declining mainly due to poaching, hunting and habitat degradation,” said Muhammad Jamshed Chaudhry, WWF Pakistan senior manager for research and conservation. “Without taking stringent measures to control these, new regulation law may not demonstrate any benefits to the species and communities.”

Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

Updated 43 min 32 sec ago

Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

  • Parents being targeted for investigation because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands
  • The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant

THE HAGUE: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government resigned on Friday over a child benefits scandal, media reported, threatening political turmoil as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of parents were wrongly accused by Dutch authorities of fraudulently claiming child allowance, with many of them forced to pay back large amounts of money and ending up in financial ruin.
The fact that some parents were targeted for investigation by tax officials because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands.
Dutch media said Rutte was due to give a statement at 1315 GMT about the resignation of his four-party coalition cabinet, which comes just two months before the Netherlands is due to hold a general election on March 17.
A hard-hitting parliamentary investigation in December said civil servants cut off benefits to thousands of families wrongly accused of fraud between 2013 and 2019.
The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant that first emerged in Britain.
Rutte had opposed the cabinet’s resignation, saying the country needs leadership during the pandemic.
He had however said that if it resigned he could be authorized to lead a caretaker government until elections — in which polls say his Freedom and Democracy Party would likely come first.
Other parties in the coalition had pushed for the government to take responsibility for the scandal, which Dutch media said some 26,000 people had been affected.
They could have also faced a confidence vote in parliament next week.
Pressure mounted on the government after opposition Labour party chief Lodewijk Asscher, who was social affairs minister in Rutte’s previous cabinet, resigned on Thursday over the scandal.
Victims also lodged a legal complaint Tuesday against three serving ministers and two former ministers including Asscher.
Many were required to pay back benefits totalling tens of thousands of euros (dollars).
Tax officials were also revealed to have carried out “racial profiling” of 11,00 people based on their dual nationality, including some of those hit by the false benefit fraud accusations.
The Dutch government announced at least 30,000 euros in compensation for each parent who was wrongly accused but it has not been enough to silence the growing clamour over the scandal.
Rutte has led three coalition governments since 2010, most recently winning elections in 2017 despite strong opposition from far-right leader Geert Wilders.
Polls say he is likely to win a fourth term in the next election, with public opinion still largely backing his handling of the coronavirus crisis.