It is unprecedented in Pakistan that protection of an endangered species is chosen over friendly relations with foreign dignitaries. Hence it is commendable that the Supreme Court has taken a stand for the Bustard Houbara, an endangered migratory bird found in Balochistan.

The Supreme Court had on August 19 imposed a ban on the issuance of permits and licenses for the hunting of endangered birds and also ordered the cancellation of all existing permits. A petition was moved by the federal government, asking the Supreme Court to reconsider the ban on hunting vulnerable migratory birds by foreign dignitaries, saying the restriction was adversely affecting the country’s relations with the Gulf States.

The federal government has maintained that the houbara was increasing in number and controlled hunting is a common practice employed in conserving rare species. The court while adjourning the hearing asked the government to provide evidence of the efforts it was making for preserving rare birds as it denied lifting the ban on giving out hunting permits. The Supreme Court’s mistrust is indicative of the general distrust the population feels towards government statements. This is just one small example that shows that the federal government and the administrative setup of the state is at odds with other institutions and needs a serious public image improvement. The government can't be trusted with the truth when it comes to birds, what to talk of mega corruption cases and land scams.

The Asian houbara bustard is a migratory bird which breeds in Central Asian states during February and March and migrates to the arid and semi-arid desert areas of Pakistan (Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab), Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan and India during winter. Hunting and poaching by falconers in the bird’s wintering grounds are the major threats facing the wild population of the Asian houbara bustard. The houbara is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) of Wild Animals, to which the Pakistan government is a signatory.

It is about time the government takes seriously its commitments to preserving wildlife as well as the environment. It must not hide behind the skirts of “more pressing priorities”. If the government has better things to do then why do we have special departments and ministries that are entrusted with this job? The government needs to set a precedent for the incumbent and successive governments that they must not allow nature to be destroyed, especially for the purpose of keeping rich dignitaries happy.