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WWF-Pakistan response to the news of hunting of 2100 Houbara Bustard in Chagai, Balochistan

Posted on 24 April 2014
WWF-Pakistan notes, and registers strong concern, about the media report of 22 April of hunting of 2100 Houbara Bustard. The news item by veteran environmental journalist Bhagwandas is based on a report titled ‘Visit of Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud regarding hunting of houbara bustard’ prepared by Jaffar Baloch, Divisional Forest Officer of the Balochistan Forest and Wildlife Department, Chagai at Dalbandin.

Chlamydotis undulata, commonly known as Houbara Bustard, is listed as “vulnerable” in the IUCN Red List. It is also listed in CITES Appendix I, pertaining to species that are vulnerable to hunting and poaching due to their economic value. Populations of the bird extend from Egypt east of the Nile through Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, U.A.E., Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia to China, with unconfirmed reports from Azerbaijan and Turkey (Collar, 1979; Goriup, 1997).

Large numbers of Houbara Bustard are illegally hunted and trapped in Pakistan, and shipped to Arab countries for use in training falcons to hunt (Combreau, 2007). Houbara are also hunted and killed for their meat. Due to efforts of Houbara Foundation International Pakistan, a non-profit organisation in Pakistan dedicated to conservation of the Houbara Bustard in close collaboration with provincial wildlife departments and law-enforcement authorities, the population of Houbara Bustard in Pakistan which was declining rapidly two decades ago has stabilized in the last twenty years since. As an example, conservation efforts started by Houbara Foundation International Pakistan and provincial wildlife department of Balochistan have revealed positive trend in Nag Valley (Rashid, H 2003). WWF-Pakistan appreciates these positive trends, which include the government ban on Houbara hunting in the Nag Valley. The Federal Government’s decision to observe a Moratorium on Houbara Hunting during 2014-2015 season to replenish Houbara Bustard stocks is quite appreciable. Thus there is all the more reason that there needs to be a strict check on any illegal hunting.

Regarding the recent hunting event, it must be highlighted that according to the Third Schedule of the Balochistan Wildlife Act (1974), “All Bustards” from the family Otididae are listed as “Protected Animals; i.e., Animals which shall not be hunted, killed or captured.” WWF-Pakistan remains steadfastly supportive of strictly implementing all provincial wildlife rules and laws, and an inclusionary approach to maintaining populations of the birds both within and outside protected areas. To provide legal cover, the provincial governments often use the provisions of a leniency clause within the Balochistan Wildlife Act to “de-list” these protected species for the period of hunting by foreign dignitaries. Any species which is listed in the threatened category such as Houbara bustard should be regularly surveyed before hunting permits are issued and the hunting should be monitored.

WWF-Pakistan is aware of a list of 16 conditions titled “Code of Conduct for Houbara Bustard” issued by the federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which are by and large good constraints such as the first clause which says “Only sustainable hunting of Houbara Bustard is allowed”. WWF-Pakistan also appreciates that the National Assembly of Pakistan raised concern about the status of conservation of Houbara in their session of 27 March, 2014 in which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made transparent the details of this code of conduct, ref

Keeping in view the threats faced by the species in its entire range in general and Pakistan in particular, WWF–Pakistan, in order to sustainably manage the population, and reduce incidences of illegal and excessive hunting by local and/or foreign hunters, proposes the following steps:

  • 1.1. Conservation of the Houbara and its habitat in the wild;
  • 1.2. Controlled hunting of the species to be undertaken within the framework of species conservation and benefit to local communities in the Houbara habitat;
  • 1.3. In order to determine the population status and trends of the species, WWF–Pakistan advocates undertaking population surveys on standard formats and protocols. This should be conducted in selected sites all over the country, on an annual basis. However, since the species is migratory, country-wide census would not produce the desired results unless coordinated population surveys are carried out across all the range states.
  • 1.4. During the hunting season, a framework should be developed in order to record the number of birds hunted in a specific area, recording any deviations from the agreed hunting regulations such as the bag limit of 100 birds, prohibition of use of guns and the 10-day maximum hunting period each season. WWF–Pakistan strongly believes that this is an essential component because it helps in generating necessary information in order to show not only the number of birds killed in each year from a specific area but annual population estimates can also support the sustainable use concept. The delay of three months in the release of information/report about this particular incident in itself is a cause for concern;
  • 1.5. The government should continue the good practice of not allowing any hunting in the Houbara breeding areas, such as the Nag Valley, which should be declared as Houbara Bustard Wildlife Sanctuaries. In addition, no hunting should be allowed in other protected areas, especially National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
  • 1.6. WWF–Pakistan strongly recommends that the Foreign Office (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) should coordinate with the senior representatives of the Federal Climate Change Division and provincial wildlife departments for sharing of relevant information before the allocation of hunting areas to foreign dignitaries and provinces must contribute the population data before any hunting allocation is made. This is important so that all the related stakeholders are on board and understand their roles and responsibilities well, before the start of hunting seasons;
  • 1.7. WWF–Pakistan strongly believes in partnership with Houbara habitat communities as major stakeholders. Houbara habitat communities can play an important role in the protection and conservation of natural resources in their respective areas. Trophy hunting has been considered a successful practice in Pakistan through which financial incentives are shared with local communities for their efforts to conserve their unique biodiversity and respective habitats. This results in both increase in wildlife populations, and improved socio-economic conditions for local communities living in the area. Similar approaches should also be practised in other regions for the benefit of communities as well as to achieve conservation objectives. In this regard, Community Based Organisations should be formed in the habitats of Houbara Bustard in Pakistan so that local communities can benefit through sustainable use of the species and further play their role in the protection and conservation of this species in their area;
  • 1.8. In order to streamline conservation of Houbara Bustard in the country, a Houbara Bustard Conservation and Development Fund can be established at the national level. There have been several initiatives of this kind already in practice e.g. Mountain Areas Conservation Fund and Protected Areas Management Fund being managed with specific terms of references. The proposed Fund should be used to undertake but not limited to the following major initiatives:
    • Annual population surveys on standard formats involving major stakeholders throughout the country and presentation of population estimates
    • Development of District / Regional Conservation Action Plans – a requirement or an essential obligation for the initiation of a sustainable use programme
    • Conservation awareness campaign regarding the sustainable use of Houbara Bustard
    • Training and capacity building of government staff and exchange visits
    • Livelihood improvement of the local communities living in Houbara Bustard habitats
    • Strengthen the Customs authorities to be alert of any illegal wildlife trafficking
    • Habitat improvement, as this is the foremost activity to sustain Houbara Bustard hunting on a sustainable basis. Houbara Foundation’s Annual Aerial Seed Broadcast in partnership with Pakistan Army is an example.

WWF-Pakistan response to the news of hunting of 2100 Houbara Bustard in Chagai, Balochistan

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