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Slaughtering Houbara Bustards (and Sheltering Osama)

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 8, 2015

(Photo: Oldansolo / Flickr)

(Photo: Oldansolo / Flickr)

I’ve written before about how sexually-insecure Middle Eastern sheiks like to compensate by traveling to Pakistan and slaughtering huge numbers of houbara bustards.   They think bustards are aphrodisiac.  Today the New York Times has a front page update about a hunt now ostensibly NOT taking place, with some interesting details about the international implications. (I had not known that the United States had an opportunity to kill Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s while he was visiting a houbara bustard hunting camp, but declined for fear of killing his host.)

Here’s part of today’s story by Declan Walsh:

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.

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 …

Read the full story here.

 

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