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SC ordered not to grant licences for houbara bustard hunt

09 September, 2015

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ISLAMABAD: Issuing a detailed judgment in the houbara bustard case, a three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Jawwad S. Khawaja ordered the federal and the provincial governments not to grant further licences or permits to hunt this species.

The federal government was also ordered to ensure its obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), both of which are recognised by Pakistani law.

The court directed the provinces to amend their respective wildlife laws to make them compliant with CITES and CMS and to not permit the hunting of any species that is either threatened with extinction or categorised as vulnerable.

On Aug 19, the Supreme Court had reserved ruling on a petition moved by Advocate Raja Muhammad Farooq on behalf of Aamir Zahoorul Haq.

The judgment declared the Oct 21, 2014, notification by the Sindh Forest and Wildlife Department as being against the law and struck down the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance.

The notification had taken away the protected status of the houbara bustard and permitted its hunting; stipulating that: “The hunting of houbara bustard would be allowed only with a special permit supported with a letter from Ministry of Foreign Affairs for allocation of an area.”

Under the notification, at least two letters were issued by the foreign ministry on Nov 1, 2014, one addressed to the embassy of the United Arab Emirates and the other to the embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain in Islamabad, in favour of 15 foreign dignitaries, who were allocated different areas of Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab for hunting purposes.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the global population of the houbara bustard has been estimated at between 78,960 and 97,000. The bird has been mentioned in IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.

In the same document, under the title ‘Threats’, IUCN reports that, “The principal threat is from hunting (primarily using falconry), largely but exclusively on the species wintering grounds. Large numbers are also trapped, mainly in Pakistan and Iran and shipped to Arabia for use in the training of falcons.”

Additionally, it states, “If hunting pressure is not reduced, the species could soon warrant up-listing to a higher threat category.”

However, despite the presence of scientific data showing the vulnerability of the species the governments of Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab and Pakistan, contrary to their obligations, had taken measures that would hasten the decline of the houbara bustard, if not pushing it towards the precipice of extinction, the judgment feared.

The apex court also rejected the argument that foreign dignitaries who hunt the houbara bustard bring money and spread their largesse in establishing schools, mosques, dispensaries etc and noted that the local laws and Pakistan’s international treaty obligations were not saleable commodities, and in contending as much the governments debase, degrade and demean the citizens.

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