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Pakistan: Royal family among Qataris arrested for poaching rare bird

The Houbara Bustard is found in the Canary Islands, North Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, China, and the UAE. It breeds in deserts and other very arid sandy areas and is largely resident within its range in Al Ain, UAE, Dec. 2012 [shankar s./Flickr]

Pakistani police have arrested seven Qatari nationals for illegally hunting precious birds in the Nushki district of the Balochistan province.

The arrestees are said to include members of the ruling Al-Thani family.

The arrested foreigners did not have a license or a no-objection certificate, according to Nushki Deputy Commissioner Abdur Razzak Sasoli, reported The Express Tribune.

Last week, Pakistan Today reported that 12 people, including four Qataris, were arrested in Balochistan for the same offence.

For decades, as a form of soft diplomacy, royal families from Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia forming hunting expeditions have travelled to Pakistan during hunting season in pursuit of the houbara bustard, a shy, rare bird the size of a chicken, whose meat they believe is an aphrodisiac.

They are usually hunted using the predatory falcon bird – falconry is an ancient sport which is popular especially among Emirati and Qatari elites. The UAE issues falcons their own passports and the birds travel with their owners in airplane cabins, sometimes dozens at a time for the hunting trips.

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It was illegal in Pakistan to hunt the houbara until 2016, when the Supreme Court lifted a hunting ban after the government argued it hurt lucrative relations with Gulf states.

The government of Balochistan has set a fee of $100,000 for the hunting of 100 houbara bustards, however, hunting parties often exceed their quota. In 2014, Saudi prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz killed more than 2,000 birds in a 21-day hunting spree causing a backlash from conservationists.

In a bid to win over local residents, Arab hunters have been known to construct roads, schools and mosques. Imported four-wheel-drive vehicles brought in for the hunt are sometimes left behind as gifts for regional leaders.

The houbara is listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species as threatened with extinction. It is on the verge of extinction in the Arabian Peninsula through falconry, hunting and habitat loss, although there have been efforts to reintroduce them.

In 2017, 26 Qatari hostages, including members of the royal family and two Saudis as part of a hunting expedition, were freed after being kidnapped and held for a ransom of $90 million in Iraq after being held for nearly a year and a half.

READ: Why Qatar’s Emir may not attend the Riyadh summit

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