Falconry is traditionally a centuries old sport of the Arabs, with the wild Houbara as its main quarry bird. Indeed, the deep love for nature and its use is gifted by the Almighty.

Over the past few years, the wild migratory houbara bustard has been in the media headlines with regard to the hunting practices. While there has been an ongoing tug of war between the proponents of hunters and conservationists, with one side trying to convince the government to carry on its policy on hunting with strict controls, and the other side convincing the government to impose a ban on hunting activities for several years. The opposition to hunting was being carried too far by opponents of hunting, without knowing about the dynamics of the sport; the benefits accrued by habitat communities and the population status of the species.

The houbara is a shy bird which occurs in arid and semi-arid areas of Pakistan, away from areas populated by humans. Communities prevalent in these areas are the poorest of the nation who lead harsh lives without basic necessities of life such as healthy food, clean drinking water, basic health care, education and communication infrastructure. The survival of these pastoral communities is on livestock, for provision of meat, milk, eggs, and other food products which come from animals. Bartering for other necessities is another use of livestock.

With that kind of economy, the habitat communities look forward to visits by hunting dignitaries from the Arab states who provide employment opportunities for the camping period such as guards, cooks, scouts, drivers and tradesmen to the local communities. In inviting the Arab dignitaries, our focus is on “Sustainable Hunting of Houbara” which would ensure that entire flocks are not wiped out and that maximum numbers of houbara return to their breeding grounds in Central Asia.

This in turn involves the local communities in protection of the flora and fauna for the next season, reducing the illegal hunting and poaching activities by unauthorised hunters round the year. This, the government cannot perform effectively due to paucity of resources. Active participation and understanding of conservation of wildlife is the key to protecting these birds for our future generations.

The government issues hunting licenses to Arab dignitaries limiting the number of birds hunted to 100 per permit. Hunting is allowed only through falconry and the use of firearms is strictly prohibited. In return the number of schools, hospitals and vocational training centers have been set up in these areas by visiting foreign dignitaries to alleviate poverty and improve the education and health care. Houbara Research and Rehabilitation Center established in Cholistan Desert of District Rahim Yar Khan and Houbara Research Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre in District Washuk of Balochistan manage the care and treatment of birds confiscated from trappers and smugglers, before releasing them back to the wild.

Now the UAE has established a Deer Breeding and Houbara Research Centre in Lal Suhanra National Park of Bahawalpur. According to WWF Pakistan, due to the efforts of Houbara Foundation International Pakistan (a non-profit organisation in Pakistan dedicated to conserve the houbara bustard population), and the provincial wildlife department of Balochistan, an upward trend was observed in the Houbara population in Nag Valley. Their population, which was declining during the past two decades, has now steadied.

According to the International Fund for Houbara Conservation, Abu Dhabi, a record number of houbara were produced across their advanced houbara breeding facilities and released back to nature. The release of numerous captive-bred houbara benefit sustaining the prevailing wildlife populace. Within a short time, the yearly production of houbara has mounted from 979 in 2003 to over 50,000 in 2016. All the released birds are tagged with identification rings, while some are harnessed with satellite transmitters in order to monitor and record their movements, habitat preferences and the ability to breed.

The addition of captive-bred houbara after their release in the habitats makes sure that the tradition of falconry remains alive and can be handed down to future generations.