Hunting with the Sheikhs

The Houbara Bustard was declared an endangered species back in 1912 by the British, who knew a thing or two about wildlife (and the killing thereof). Mary Anne Weaver wrote a “fascinating account”: of the lengths men can go to cure erectile dysfunction, clutching at even the foggiest superstitious beliefs.

It’s just a bird, yet it’s one of the most important factors in Pakistan. Though it sounds unlikely, the migratory patterns of the Houbara Bustard have an amazing amount of influence in Pakistan. Read on to learn how one little soon to be extinct bird has the elite of Pakistan bowing and scraping to men wearing fan belts around their heads…

This story starts of with the Arabs, who are as superstitious as men come in this day and age. Amongst other suppositions, they believe that the Houbara is a walking, talking supercharged Viagra pill, and hence try to eat as many birds as they can, with a few really desperate ones eating up to 500 birds a year! Considering the size of their harems, they can’t be blamed for grasping at any and all virility aids which they can read about in the story books.

Now, the Arabs hunted out the Houbara in their lands back in the sixties, and moved on to wherever else it can be found. The Houbara is an endangered species, and the rest of the world kicked the Arabs out after some time – leaving only Pakistan for the Arabs to hunt in. Self respecting nations like India kicked the Arabs not so much for the sake of the birds, but because of the way the Arabs hunted – treating the locals like dirt and acting like medieval kings wherever they went.

So it came to that the only place left for the Arabs to go was Pakistan. Luckily for the Arabs, Pakistani leadership is easy to buy, and the Arabs had plenty of money to do so. They started pouring in the money – building palaces, warehouses and even airfields around the country, and buying local officials wherever they went.

Some Arab royal family members lease huge tracts of land in Pakistan and come yearly to hunt them. This is not a new problem – In 1912, the British banned the hunting of Houbara on the subcontinent. But since the 1960s, when the bustard was hunted to near extinction in the Middle East, Arab sheikhs have carved up Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan into unofficial hunting fiefdoms. Hunting of the houbara bustards was officially banned in 1972, but successive Pakistani governments have bowed to the sheikhs’ wishes, allowing them to indulge their belief that bustard meat has aphrodisiac qualities.

The Arabs are obsessed with the Houbara – they employ thousands of full time employees all over their hunting grounds which keep track of the birds, and ensure that nobody else hunts them. These Arab lackeys have the authority to stop and question Pakistani citizens, and stop them from entering certain areas. They employ sohpisticated electronic means, along with the older tried and tested ways of bribing the conservation and wildlife agencies to keep track of the movement of other hunters, and of course, to keep track of every Houbara in their areas.

A hunting permit for the Arabs is not just a license to go hunt a few birds – on the lands they hunt the Arabs are the masters of all they see, and they go through these areas like marauding lords of ages long gone by, with no regards whatsoever for the locals, whose fields they destroy if they happen to be in the way and whose women they rape if they feel so inclined. Incidents are brushed up by the federal govt, and the Arabs sprinkle money liberally wherever they go to keep the locals happy. Everyone, from the government on down to the tribal lords on whose lands they hunt on to the thousands of shikaris they employ to keep track of the Houbara, is -bribed- paid according to their status.

An Arab hunting party is a massive affair, with hundreds of hanger-ons all trying their best to butter up the big gun. Sometimes, the big gun is too busy to attend his own hunt, but the hunt still goes on. This being Pakistan, the Minister for Wildlife is often seen hunting along with his Arab buddies. Much of Pakistan’s top government officials who have the good fortune of being the lackey for a moneyed Arab arrange and take parts in these hunts. They also help out the Arabs in their other passion of kidnapping/buying little boys for camel racing. There are up to “40,000”: child jockeys in the gulf, most of which come from the hunting grounds of the Arab Sheikhs.

The Arabs build (almost) no schools and fund no hospitals. Each hunting party spends tens of millions of dollars, yet none really trickles down to the locals. The bulk of the money is spent on paying off various Pakistani tribal lords and government officials, and the rest is spent on themselves. There is nothing funded by the Arabs on the lands they hunt and spend so much time one – their favorite hunting grounds are the most backwards areas in this country, and remain so despite years of Arab hunting parties. The government, along with other misguided fools, keeps saying that these hunts help out the areas where the hunts take place, but reality is far removed. The money the Arabs pays to the locals ends up keeping those areas far poorer than the ones which the Arabs leave alone. Take Jhal Magsi for example, one of the Arabs hunting grounds – where the literacy rate is an astounding 4 pecent – the lowest in Pakistan. The sardars can be easily spotted roaming around in expensive SUV’s sporting gold rolexes, while the countryside rots. Easy money is a curse – why work when the money keeps rolling in? Why farm, or set up industries even when a little begging will bring in far more money?

What is a soon to be extinct bird between two fellow Muslim countries after all? Or a few rapes and abductions every hunting season? It’s not like they draw cartoons, after all.

What happens when the Houbara dies out? What will all the hundreds of sardars and so many more dependent on easy Arab money do? What about the villages whose men are in the employee of the Arabs, and know no other means of income?

Pakistan has a very tight relationship with Arab governments – and the Houbara had the large role in establishing that bond. It led to the heads of Arab states coming on long hunting trips here, which in turn led to them establishing friendships with politicians and the landed gentry. Why else would the heads of state pay so much attention to Pakistan? Fellow Muslim countries be damned – Saudi Arabia doesn’t give any other country billions of dollars of oil for free.

h4. Other links:

* “Mary Anee Weaver: Hunting with the Sheiks (pdf)”:

* ‘Mary Anne Weaver: Of Birds and Bombs’:

* “Future grim for the Houbara Bustard”:

* ‘Hunting in Pakistan: The Houbara Bustard’:

* ‘Houbara Bustard Conservation’:

* Herald Magazine, Feb 2006 _(article not available online)_

* ‘Arab sheikhs, endangered birds and terror financing’:

* ‘Sepia Mutiny: Two birds with one stone’:

* ‘SepiaMutiny: Arrested Development’:

6 thoughts on “Hunting with the Sheikhs”

  1. It really is too bad. The bustard is such a wonderful bird and one of the dozens of species that are on our endangered list. I remember days in Karachi when I used to see parrots rather commonly in our garden. Haven’t seen one there in at least fifteen years now. My neighbor had peacocks. They’re all gone. Birds and wildlife in Pakistan was so common, now the country is being stripped bare. A very important piece you’ve written here KO.

  2. i find it really sad that our pakistani officials dont care about the houbra bustards. we should be protecting them and not having them killed. damn arab and pakistani b…….s.

  3. I’m living in Thal in Punjab and the Arabs also got our Teshisl Mankera on lease for 3 years, I’ve seen their brutelity myself. They had paid GOP 320 million rupee par year, local farmers and people are fed up by them.

    These stuped junks and their guards riding 4X4 vehicles are runining our farms but we can’t do anything. Its a pity…

  4. This is absolute nonsense. Complete rubbish whoever wrote this nonsensical article. Fine I agree the Houbara bustard is nearing extinction, but we should not forget that THOUSANDS, yes, THOUSANDS of families in Sindh depend on these Arab sheikhs. They bring in so much money and that in turn creates a lot of employment for the locals. Was it not worth mentioning that? I have seen it with my own eyes. These same arab sheikhs have built cities in Pakistan (Rahim Yar Khan), provided shelter to hundreds and are by far the largest foreign investors in Pakistan and have done so much for our country that the person who wrote this article just fails to mention ANYTHING. Come and see the reality, I invite all of you to meet these Arab Sheikhs and stop listening to people who are not thankful to these Arabs. I, myself being a Pakistani, fully praise and respect the generous offerings they have made to the locals. If you don’t believe me, I’ll take you to interior Sindh and you can question the locals yourself! I am extremely disappointed with this article and believe it should be removed.

  5. I work in an oil exploration company and from last 2 years we are working in district ghotki Sindh.

    UAE Arabs stay here for 6 to 8 months a year and from all over the world their visitors come for hunting TALOR.

    And for locals it is strictly banned.

    I dont know the real facts and figures that how many birds they hunt and how many migrate from russia to here in SINDH. But i would like to say that a bird which is strictly banned for pakistanis how come is allowed for arabs and our army and rangers protect them.

    It should be stop and our government should take necesarry action on it

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