LAHORE -  The Lahore High Court on Thursday banned until Dec 2018 hunting of houbara bustard and other rare migratory birds, directing a commission comprising experts to conduct survey for determining possible threat to the species.

Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah passed the order after a commission headed by Dr Pervez Hassan opposed hunting of rare houbara bustard, relying upon precautionary principle. Advocate Sheraz Zaka, Kalim Ilyas, additional advocate general Anwar Hussain and Forest Department’s officials were the other members of the commission directed by the court to examine hunting of the rare birds as well as the protection of bio-diversity in the country.

The foreign ministry, in the past, had been issuing permits to UAE royals and Arab princes for hunting of houbara bustard in south Punjab and other parts of the country where these rare birds migrated in winter from other parts of the world.

However, advocate Sheraz Zaka and Kalim Ilyas challenged hunting of the rare birds, arguing that hunting could endanger the specie. They stated that hunting was also causing serious damage to bio-diversity and environment and was a big threat to the world’s rare birds.

Presenting its recommendations before the court on Thursday, 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 extinction as no survey had so far been conducted in this regard.

The commission said that global population of houbara was estimated at 78,960 - 97,000 in 2014. The population is expected to fall within 50,000 - 99,999 individuals, which was equitable to 33,000 - 67,000 mature individuals. The population was regarded as declining by 30-49 percent over a three-generation (20-year) window, stretching from the past into the future. Overexploitation 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 in winter around the Iraq-Iran border, while those from central and eastern Kazakhstan enter in Afghanistan, Balochistan (Pakistan), and a few reaching Thar Desert and southern Iran, said the report. Winter 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 barred from issuing hunting permits for houbara bustard until December 2018.

After the commission’s recommendations, Chief Justice Shah banned hunting of houbara bustard until Dec 2018.