KARACHI – Houbara bustard , also known as Asian Houbara, is an endangered bird species which nests exclusively in the steppes of the Central Asia and winters in arid drylands of Pakistan, India and Iran. With a global population of only 33,000-67,000 left after years of overhunting, this large sandy-colored bird which elegantly wanders the deserts of Pakistan might well fade away into the pages of natural history books just like dodo, passenger pigeon and other extinct species.

It is unofficially estimated that around 30,000-40,000 birds winter across Pakistan for up to six months. But this endangered bird, which is supposedly protected under our wildlife protection laws and international conventions to which Pakistan’s government is signatory to, is under a grave threat.

Every year during the same time when Houbara starts arriving in winter to Pakistan, the government issues illegal hunting permits to Arab royalty from Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia allowing them to hunt thousands of these rare and protected birds for mere blood sports encouraged in the name of foreign policy. These illegal hunts are carried out only to overcome the addiction of Arab royals for the aphrodisiac properties these birds are believed to possess which has never been proven scientifically.

To protest against this government-sanctioned massacre, widespread state corruption and the subsequent human rights violation of the indigenous communities, concerned civil activists from all walks of life gathered in front of Karachi Press Club on Saturday to voice their concerns over these illegal hunts and the gross state corruption associated with it.

The protest was organized by Mahol Dost Sehri, which is an informal group of environment-friendly citizens who work for protection and preservation of wildlife, animals, forests and natural resources according to their Facebook group.  Many of the notable names present at the protest included, author Rumana Husain, classical dancer and activist Sheema Kermani of Tehrik-e-Niswan, documentarian and animal rights activist Mahera Omer of PAWS and development activist Karamat Ali of PILER.

One of the main of organizers of the protest event, Naeem Sadiq, who happens to be a social activist and engineer based in Karachi informed the media:

“Houbara is being hunted to point of extinction in Pakistan. Nowhere on earth are these birds hunted with such brutality and greed. Illegal hunting permits are being issued by the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan, a government ministry which has no legal jurisdictions over this issue.”

“Every year 4,000-6,000 Houbara bustards are being hunted in Pakistan. Due to the excessive amount of hunting done by the Arab royals the global population over the years has reduced from 90,000 individuals two decades ago to around 60,000.  If this drastic decline isn’t stopped at once, we might lose Houbara forever. To uphold the law, the rights of our wildlife heritage and to raise our voice against corruption, we have organized this protest to voice our concerns and demand the state and courts to ban these hunts at once,” Sadiq added.