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Middle East

Arab Prince accused of killing thousands of internationally-protected houbara bustards

Prince Fahd bin Sultan and his hunting party reportedly killed a staggering 100 endangered birds a day for 21 days

A Saudi Prince has reportedly killed almost 2,000 endangered houbara bustards during a three-week hunting trip to Pakistan.

The bird’s numbers have declined dramatically in recent years, in part due to the controversial “traditional” practice among wealthy Arab tourists who use them as prey for falconry.

According to a report prepared by the regional government of Balochistan, a south-western province, Prince Fahd bin Sultan was issued permits by central Pakistani authorities to hunt up to 100 bustards over 10 days in a specified location.

Yet the report goes on to say that the prince and his party averaged that number every day in a tour which far exceeded both the limits on time and region that were set, sources told the Dawn newspaper.

Houbara bustards are an internationally-protected species, described as on the brink of extinction by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, yet they are also prized for their meat and considered to be an aphrodisiac by some in the Arab world.

They have almost completely been wiped out on the Arabian peninsula, driving wealthy hunters to travel abroad to keep the tradition going.

And though visitors like Prince Fahd are granted permits to do so by Pakistan’s government, the country’s own citizens are barred from hunting bustards and there are areas which should, in theory, not be hunted in by anyone at all.

The Balochistan report, dated 4 February, said that the prince personally killed 1,977 birds, at his peak poaching 197 in a single day’s hunt at a sanctuary where bustards are supposed to be protected.

The report said a further 123 birds were killed by local officials, guides and other members of the party, bringing the total toll to 2,100.

The practice of allowing Arab royalty to visit Pakistan and bypass local rules is not new, and has caused serious diplomatic rifts in the past. It is largely resisted by regional wildlife officers, whose authority is invariably overruled on the matter.

“Arab dignitaries have been coming for hunting for decades and decades – it's a longstanding tradition,” Tasneem Aslam, from Pakistan's ministry of foreign affairs, told the Guardian earlier this year. “Ten years ago there wasn't so much public awareness about the issue but now we see more voices raising their concern.”

Naeem Sadiq, a Karachi-based activist who petitioned the Lahore high court to ban the practice, said of the belief in bustards’ aphrodisiac qualities: “Is there any more ridiculous reason to kill an animal?” said Naeem Sadiq, a Karachi-based activist who petitioned the Lahore high court to ban the practice.

He added: “If it's illegal for Pakistanis to kill these birds why should the Arab sheikhs be allowed to do it?”