LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Wednesday sought replies from federal and provincial governments on petitions questioning hunting of Houbara Bustard and the permits issued to foreign dignitaries.

Chief Justice Muhammad Yawar Ali passed the order on petitions moved by Advocate Sheraz Zaka and Naseem Sadiq. The CJ also issued notice to a local commission constituted earlier by former chief justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and adjourned further hearing until March 26.

The former CJ initially put ban on hunting of Houbara Bustard but later recalled the order and directed the registrar office to fix the petitions before an appropriate bench afresh.

Previously, the commission said that hunting permissions of Houbara Bustard might endanger this rare species.  The commission stated that it was not sure if the breed was under any serious threat of being vanished from the planet as no survey had so far been conducted in this regard. 

The commission also said that global population of Houbara was estimated at 78,960 - 97,000 individuals in 2014. The population was expected to fall within 50,000 - 99,999 individuals, which was assumed to equate to 33,000 - 67,000 mature individuals. The population was regarded as declining by 30-49% over a three-generation (20-year) window, stretching from the past into the future.

Over exploitation remains the foremost threat to the species, primarily as a result of unsustainable levels of hunting and poaching, it said.  It further said that contemporary range of houbara extends from Egypt east of the Nile through Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia to China, with unconfirmed reports from Azerbaijan and Turkey.

According to the commission, disjointed and highly fragmented resident populations exist across the Middle East into Pakistan, most notably in Iran, Egypt and Israel. It told the court that northern populations were migratory in winter in southern areas. The houbara bustard that come from western Kazakhstan mainly winter around the Iraq-Iran border, while those from central and eastern Kazakhstan winter in Afghanistan, Balochistan (Pakistan), and a few reaching Thar Desert and southern Iran, said the report. Wintering grounds for Chinese houbara bustard populations were on the eastern edge of Karakum Desert (Turkmenistan) and in Cholistan, it added.

The commission suggested that the foreign ministry should be barred from issuance of hunting permissions and the ministry of climate should be asked for issuance of such permission in future for their safety and protection. It also requested the court that the government should be restrained from issuance of hunting permits for Houbara Bustard until December 2018.