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3rdRare Houbara Bustards are back on death row. Under government pressure, the Supreme Court has reversed the hunting ban it had placed on these birds in August 2015 – a ban that was enthusiastically greeted, after many years of lobbying, by environmental bodies throughout the country, as well as overseas.

Now a mere five months later, the same court has acceded to government claims that the continuance of the ban would adversely affect Pakistan’s foreign relations with Arab countries, despite the fact that the Houbara Bustard is on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s ‘Red List’ and is a worldwide ‘Protected Species’.

Foreign dignitaries will now be issued 10 day hunting permits – applicable to designated areas – allowing them to kill, by use of hunting falcons only, up to 100 Houbara Bustards each – although this quota is often exceeded.

There has been much debate about protecting the Houbara Bustard – an estimated 30,000-40,000 of these birds migrate to Pakistan from Central Asia for the winter months – but, as is evident, foreign relations, financial considerations and business interests are heavyweights in comparison to the ultimate fate of our rare, feather-weight friends.

Ironically, Houbara Bustards (all but extinct in the deserts of Saudi Arabia where their meat is considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac) are being carefully bred in the 2,200 square kilometre Al-Sayd Nature Reserve in Saudi Arabia, where no one, not even royalty, is allowed to kill them.

– B. Khan