Houbara bustard ban
ON Friday, the Supreme Court lifted the ban on hunting the houbara bustard, an activity that has been termed a ‘pillar’ of Pakistan’s foreign policy. However, conservationists need not despair completely, for if the state allows the sustainable hunting of the bird and prevents an all-out slaughter, the creature’s ‘vulnerable’ status on IUCN’s Red List may well improve. The apex court had last year called for a blanket ban on hunting the bird. However, Friday’s decision came in response to a number of petitions filed by the federal and three provincial governments, as well as by others. The state was apparently worried that the ban could negatively affect relations with the Gulf states, whose potentates — together with their entourages — descend upon Pakistan to hunt the houbara bustard every year. That a part of our foreign policy should be based on such a fragile pillar is unfortunate. But now that the court has ruled on the matter, it will be incumbent upon the state to balance foreign policy considerations with conservation of the houbara bustard, which winters in Pakistan every year.
Some independent experts have endorsed the idea of sustainable hunting of the bird as opposed to a complete ban. Still, it will take considerable effort by the government to ensure that the houbara bustard is hunted in a sustainable manner and its population is not decimated. The onus lies on the federal government, as well as the Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab administrations. As the Supreme Court has pointed out, the local communities must be involved in conservation efforts. If they can be convinced that the bird be allowed to breed and be hunted only in limited numbers, the local population can play a crucial part in raising the houbara bustard’s numbers. Further, the concept of trophy hunting should be applied in this case; the hunters should be charged considerable amounts to be allowed to hunt their prey, with most of the money going to the local communities. But all conservation efforts will fail if bag limits are violated by hunters with deep pockets. Does the state have the courage to tell its foreign guests that they cannot hunt beyond a certain limit, and that violators of these limits will be punished? Perhaps the court should also call for independent verification to ensure that its orders are being complied with and that the bird’s numbers are going up despite the lifting of the ban on the annual hunt.