The government has issued thirty-three special permits for houbara hunting to Arab sheikhs to hunt the internationally protected bird species this season. The high profile list of the royal hunters include kings, emirs, crown princes, khalifas and sheiks. Emir of Kuwait has graced the club of royal hunters for the first time.

To escape harsh winters in the Central Asian States, Russia and China, the houbara migrates to the temperate regions of our country, only to be relentlessly hunted for the gastronomic pleasures of Arab royals. Included in the list of endangered species, its hunting by any means, including falconry, is prohibited. But why do the royals go after the houbara with so much relish and not after any other bird? They contend that falconry is their traditional sport and houbara is an ideal prey for it. The royals however should observe some limit of hunting the bird, least of all killing it wantonly and dispatching catch of the day back to the emirates in refrigerated containers.

By one estimate, six to seven thousand live houbaras are shipped to the UAE every year because of the ever-increasing demand for them. And these birds are trapped by illegal netting and poaching. A typical hunting camp in hunting areas consists of about 300 men and incurs an expense of about a million dollars.

Recently, houbara hunting camp of Qatar’s petroleum minister Sheikh Ali Bin Abdullah in Kech district was vandalised and set on fire. The bandits held the camp inmates, including the security personnel at gunpoint, snatched two Kalashnikov rifles from them, and took away two vehicles meant for hunting in all weather terrain. Luckily, Sheikh Abdullah hadn’t arrived from Qatar at the time. It turns out that houbara pursuit now entails risk of life and limb.

Incidentally, Sheikh Abdullah’s hunting entourage had been attacked in February this year, too, but it failed to deter the royal hunter who turned up again a few months later. The houbara must possess some rare quality for its hunters to salivate over it and pursue it so relentlessly, even at the risk of their lives.

Our Arab friends have a huge appetite for meat. A companion of a visiting prince from emirates once fell sick for overstuffing himself. Even laban (yogurt in Arabic) failed to relieve his misery. He was evacuated to one of the leading hospitals in the city. As doctors tended to him, the prince arrived to know how his aide was doing. The prince, instead of empathising with his companion, slapped his bulging tummy amid guffaw and said, “I told you not to eat the whole lamb but you didn’t listen to me.”

Nevertheless, the wildlife in the country is becoming extinct by the day. Although rapidly increasing population and use of pesticides are partly responsible for it, but indiscriminate hunting, poaching, and netting even during the mating season have destroyed the wildlife. Strange it is that politically influential hunters and bird shooters are usually appointed game wardens. Instead of protecting the wildlife, they entertain their friends, politicians, bureaucrats and generals by arranging shooting sprees for them in game preserves. The irony is that while the houbara is decreasing in number, the royals chasing it are multiplying. Too many princes, too few birds.

IFTEKHAR A. KHAN,

Lahore, November 27.