Bird of Contention for Saudis and Pakistan - CVIEW NEWS

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Sunday, 8 February 2015

Bird of Contention for Saudis and Pakistan

For decades, royal Arab hunting expeditions have traveled to the far reaches of Pakistan in pursuit of the houbara bustard — a waddling, migratory bird whose meat, they believe, contains aphrodisiac powers.
Little expense is spared for the elaborate winter hunts. Cargo planes fly tents and luxury jeeps into custom-built desert airstrips, followed by private jets carrying the kings and princes of Persian Gulf countries along with their precious charges: expensive hunting falcons that are used to kill the white-plumed houbara.
This year’s hunt, however, has run into difficulty.
It started in November, when the High Court in Baluchistan, the vast and tumultuous Pakistani province that is a favored hunting ground, canceled all foreign hunting permits in response to complaints from conservationists.
According to Newyork Times, those experts say the houbara’s habitat, and perhaps the long-term survival of the species, which is already considered threatened, has been endangered by the ferocious pace of hunting.
That legal order ballooned into a minor political crisis last week when a senior Saudi prince and his entourage landed in Baluchistan, attracting unusually critical media attention and a legal battle that is scheduled to reach the country’s Supreme Court in the coming days.
Anger among conservationists was heightened by the fact that the prince — Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the governor of Tabuk province — along with his entourage had killed 2,100 houbara over 21 days during last year’s hunt, according to an official report leaked to the Pakistani news media, or about 20 times more than his allocated quota.
Still, Prince Fahd faced little censure when he touched down in Dalbandin, a dusty town near the Afghan border on Wednesday, to be welcomed by a delegation led by a cabinet minister and including senior provincial officials.
His reception was a testament, critics say, to the money-driven magnetism of Saudi influence in Pakistan, and the walk-on role of the humble bustard in cementing that relationship.
“This is a clear admission of servility to the rich Arabs,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physics professor and longtime critic of what he calls “Saudization” in Pakistan. “They come here, hunt with impunity, and are given police protection in spite of the fact that they are violating local laws.”
The dispute has focused attention on a practice that started in the 1970s, when intensive hunting in the Persian Gulf nearly rendered the houbara extinct there, and with it a cherished tradition considered the sport of kings.
As the houbara migrated from its breeding grounds in Siberia, newly enriched Persian Gulf royalty flocked to the deserts and fields of Pakistan, where they were welcomed with open arms by the country’s leaders.
For the Pakistanis, the hunt has become an opportunity to earn money and engage in a form of soft diplomacy.
Although only 29 foreigners have been permitted houbara licenses this year, according to press reports, they include some of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the Middle East, including the kings of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the Emir of Kuwait and the ruler of Dubai.

Their devotion to the houbara can seem mysterious to outsiders. The bird’s meat is bitter and stringy, and its supposed aphrodisiac properties are not supported by scientific evidence.
But falcon hunting, and the pursuit of the houbara, occupy a romantic place in the Bedouin Arab culture.
In Pakistan, the lavish nature of the winter hunts, which take place largely away from public scrutiny, have become the stuff of legend. In the early ’90s, it was reported, the Saudi king arrived in Pakistan with a retinue of dancing camels.

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