Skip to main content

VIEW: Houbara Bustards: dead birds walking? — Afrah Jamal

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, December 11, 2010
Published in SHE Magazine Jan 2011

Experts disagree over the exact date when the houbara bustard might join the ranks of the spectacled cormorant, caspian tiger and woolly rhinoceros — but most agree that it is probably headed that way. The houbara has been projected as an aphrodisiac — endangered, protected, doomed — in need of conservation and on the fast track towards extinction. Because, come winter, when Pakistan gets ready to host one class of migratory birds, it also prepares to welcome several dignitaries from neighbouring Arab countries. The houbara comes for the climate; the Arabs come for the houbara. Armed with permits and falcons, visiting Arabs proceed to hunt in designated areas and, if tabloids are to be believed, their sole interest in the sport lies in what the poor bird’s meat contains and not the hunt itself. The tabloids would be surprised to learn that while the royal hunters’ main motivation is the thrill of the sport, the houbara’s preservation is also their major concern. As for the aphrodisiac part, it is not true.

The houbara is under attack on multiple fronts. The birds are endangered not just because of falconry but also due to domestic abuse (illegal netting, trapping and poaching) as well as natural causes. In the netting, trapping and shooting of game birds, the odds are heavily stacked against the prey while the opposite is true in falconry. Only a very agile and well-trained falcon can take down a houbara, which has a better than even chance to escape unscathed. It is this challenge that has made falconry a noble sport, fit for royalty. The houbara may be many things — it is moody, scares easily and is picky about mates (takes three to five years to settle down again). And yes, it is coveted as a game bird, but the hunters vehemently deny that the bird is sought after for its alleged aphrodisiac properties, insisting that for them falconry is more than a sport — it is tradition.

Recently, a very small passage in a local daily was devoted to the environment and wildlife conservation efforts in Pakistan on the UAE’s 39th anniversary on December 2, 2010 that quoted HH Sheikh Zayed (President of the UAE) as saying, “Whatever we take from nature, we return to nature.” The negative aspects of the hunt get annual coverage but the UAE would, for once, like to highlight the positives, beginning with their role in conservation.

According to a report, the UAE is the first country to have initiated measures to protect the endangered houbara bustard; hunting may be their passion but conservation is their foremost concern. If the houbara bustard becomes extinct, their centuries old lifestyle dies with it and they see themselves as one of the principal stakeholders in ensuring survival of the species.

That the houbara has been hunted to extinction in their homeland — the deserts of Arabia — make them empathise with their hosts. The UAE government is funding studies to successfully breed houbaras in captivity and overseeing efforts to have them released in the wild. They have established an ultramodern houbara breeding facility in their own country where houbara chicks are raised and later released into the wild, validating their leader’s claim. Besides, in a conscious effort to conserve the houbara population and prevent over-hunting, the royal dignitaries ensure that the number of hunting teams accompanying the entourage is limited and each hunting party is given a small quota of birds that they cannot exceed during the entire season.

The UAE dignitaries who visit Pakistan for falconry spend a colossal amount of money during their stay. What may appear as frivolous expenditure actually helps stimulate the local economy of one of the poorer regions of Pakistan. They have made sizeable investments in social welfare projects like housing schemes, hospitals and communication networks besides providing other facilities in places like Rahimyar Khan, Larkana and Cholistan, which are their annual haunts.

Some conservationists stock up on ammunition using bleak statistics, hoping to jolt the government of Pakistan into action and persuade hunters to give up their vocation. The same reports paint the Arabs as reckless, indifferent, inconsiderate and above the law. If such tirades continue, the UAE royals will take their hunt elsewhere. UAE, which has been described as “the single largest investor in Pakistan”, has deep ties to the land and its people and their annual trek is out of love for the host country as much as their fondness for the sport. For years, they have roughed it out in the desert, shared their kills with the locals and, of course, brought in much needed revenue — a lot of it. For them, the allure lies in being able to relive the Bedouin lifestyle and stay in touch with their roots.


While the UAE has taken concrete steps to preserve and promote the houbara bustard population, Pakistan must continue to ensure that laws that ban illegal hunting and trapping are strictly implemented. Or else, the houbaras are dead birds walking.

Images taken from
http://image02.webshots.com/2/0/91/20/167909120BLnYkK_fs.jpg
http://desertislands.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/155048houbara.jpg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Quiet Diplomacy: Memoirs of an Ambassador of Pakistan / Author: Jamsheed Marker

PUBLISHED IN Daily Times /February 06, 2010

REVIEWED BY: Afrah Jamal

Jamsheed Marker belongs to an exceptional cadre of Foreign Service officers entrusted to keep things on an even keel on the diplomatic stage. Providence chose him to fill the void brought on by a sudden influx of newly independent nations and the subsequent need to expand diplomatic service during the 1960s. A stellar career in fostering global diplomacy as the longest serving ambassador has earned him a special place in history.

This veteran Pakistani diplomat has a striking resume. With ten posts and nine accreditations, his name appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the only person to have served as ambassador to more countries than anyone. He took his curtain call when Pakistan declared him Ambassador at Large in 2004, and has been on the faculty at Eckerd College, St Petersburg — Florida as Diplomat-in-Residence. He ended his tenure with a wry observation, ‘the batting card on the scorecard to M…

OP-ED: What’s In A Name(sake)?

First Published in Daily Times / 2 Sep 2013

A beloved cricketer’s name adorns the billboards but this is not a biopic. The cricketing world it allegedly represents provides a compelling front but it will not be a return to his old stomping grounds. Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (MHSA) draws upon a living legend’s legacy to leverage the passion and throws in a cameo or two, but that is the extent of Afridi’s involvement. Meanwhile, somewhere in a small little village, a disgraced cricketer turned coach who trains a rag tag team will be moved centre-field. And the one thing that binds the nation together and provides the soulful soundtrack will become the anchor.

The newly minted flight is bound for cricket-ville and in some parts of the world that is reason enough to join in the festivities. Humayun Saeed, seen at the helm wearing a number of hats as the producer/actor enlists the classic underdog formula to launch his ambitious vision. The village club is in danger of being shut down, and m…

The Book of Davis - Reading between the lines

Published by Global Affairs / Aug 2017

Raymond Davis is a champ. A team player, who puts the needs of his comrades in arms before himself. He is savvy. He is a man of integrity - a survivor - a trooper. Ray, the epitome of courage runs headlong towards danger and into a minefield - literally. He is all this and more. This is his story after all.

6 years ago, he was a trained Special Forces SF, undercover ‘contractor’, forced to navigate the cramped alleyways of Lahore on a routine mission – the details of which remain a mystery. His book ‘The Contractor: How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis’ with Storms Reback, revisits the scene of the crime to solidify his innocence and along the way take a few potshots at random players who helped secure his release. It’s a hair-raising ride.

His style is conversational, his demeanor - amiable. The case is still fresh in people’s minds and his intent to set the record straight ignites yet another round of controversy…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…

OPED: The Afghan Policy in Perspective

Published in Global Village Space / Aug 2017

True to its reality show inspired template, the Afghan strategy was rolled out after months of speculations, suspense and dithering. It used memorable taglines and inflated figures. ‘Agents of chaos’, sunk costs described as ‘billions and billions’ and going all in seeking victory against all odds. It offered to be tough on Pakistan, even as it was vague on the outlines and predictable in its deployment.

Reading between the Lines

This is essentially the new, improvised policy meant not just for Afghanistan but also Pakistan and India. With it the U.S. administration appears to have heeded the advice of keeping the enemy in the dark. They have also dismissed the necessity of keeping their allies close and have instead embarked upon a strategic vision that aims to expand the theatre adding India to the volatile mix and potentially widen the gulf between allies.

Yet it is not the public performance of the commander-in-chief that catches the e…

VIEW: GOING DUTCH (2008)

Published in THE POST May 18, 2008

What does Cadbury have to do with 12 sketches and a 17 minute film? Nothing, really. Cadbury is neither Dutch nor Danish. But by now most Pakistanis - if not all - have probably received a text message stating otherwise. And thus begins a boycott campaign of all things Dutch or Danish. The self righteous lot, in their overzealousness, would acquiesce willingly. Yet, few who have received an email or sms that proclaimed the success of this boycott and lobbied for its continuity - or witnessed the demonstrations meant to convey outrage against both Denmark and the Netherlands for their alleged laxity in safeguarding certain religions’ sanctity - will stop to reflect on the virtues of pushing a hostile policy intended to coerce but neglecting to convince. Fewer still will bother to dig deeper and corroborate details of such episodes.

The cartoon controversy returned in 2008 – helped on by the aptly titled film ‘Fitna’- similarly denounced for its unflat…