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Home Weather Poachers' paradise: Gulf hunts fuel Pakistan falcon trafficking - Times of India

Poachers’ paradise: Gulf hunts fuel Pakistan falcon trafficking – Times of India

KARACHI: Since studying to seize birds as a teen, Muhammad Rafiq has amassed a small fortune in Pakistan trapping and trafficking falcons — together with some endangered species — for rich Gulf Arabs.
A single falcon can fetch as much as tens of 1000’s of {dollars} on the black market, which allowed Rafiq to renovate his household dwelling.
“Every season, dealers come from Karachi and leave their contacts with us, and we call them back if we catch something,” mentioned the 32-12 months-outdated, from a close-by coastal village.
He not too long ago trapped a peregrine falcon on a one-week looking mission.
“I desperately needed money,” he advised AFP. “And God has listened to me.”
For years, Pakistan has stood on the nexus of the falcon commerce, each as a supply of the birds of prey, after which as a vacation spot to hunt with them.
Falcon poaching is formally banned, however demand for the birds is rising, in accordance with the World Wildlife Fund in Pakistan.
It estimates that as much as 700 falcons have been illegally smuggled out of the nation final 12 months alone, usually by organised legal networks.
Their vacation spot isFnormally Gulf nations, the place falconry is a treasured custom.
Owners deal with the birds “like their own children”, mentioned Margit Muller, the director of Abu Dhabi’s falcon hospital, which treats 11,000 falcons yearly, a quantity that has greater than doubled previously 10 years.
One conservationist advised AFP an Arab falconer normally owns round 5 to 6 hundred birds, most of which can be captured within the wild in Pakistan or Mongolia.
Wild birds are prized over these bred in captivity as a result of they’re believed to be higher hunters, although there isn’t a proof to assist these claims.
Every winter, lavish looking events from the Gulf flock to Pakistan’s sprawling deserts, the place they’re given permits to make use of their falcons to hunt houbara bustards, a migratory chook wrongly prized as an aphrodisiac and categorized as weak by conservationists.
These excursions have solid a highlight on the deep ties between Pakistan and its allies within the Gulf.
For many years, the Gulf states have propped up Islamabad’s ramshackle funds with beneficiant loans, with one of the expectations being that they’ll proceed to make use of Pakistan as a looking playground.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and two different royals have been granted permission to catch bustards by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s authorities in December final 12 months, a mushy diplomacy tactic that Khan had brazenly disagreed with when he was within the opposition.
The authorities additionally presents falcons as items to world leaders.
“Our officials are working like pimps for the Arabs,” a authorities official requesting anonymity advised AFP.
A short ban on the bustard hunts was overturned in 2016 by the Supreme Court, however conservationists at the moment are pushing for the export of falcons to be regulated in an ongoing case on the Islamabad High Court.
Every 12 months, falcons escape the tough Siberian winter and fly 1000’s of miles to hotter areas, together with southern Pakistan.
During the migratory season, wildlife traffickers descend on villages alongside the Arabian Sea shoreline, providing fishermen money to briefly abandon their boats and check out their hand at poaching.
“We pay them in advance, send food to their families and if they catch a bird that is precious, we happily give them motorbikes,” mentioned one trafficker who spoke to AFP on the situation of anonymity.
A spread of ways may be employed — sticky liquids, web traps or, mostly, utilizing smaller birds as bait.
Poachers particularly goal the peregrine falcon, whose populations stay secure — but in addition the saker, which is endangered.
Bob Dalton, a veteran falcon conservationist, helped oversee the rehabilitation of dozens of falcons seized by Pakistani authorities in October, with officers estimating the cache to be value properly over $1 million.
“The illegal trade is growing, there is more money being spent, more pursuit from the Gulf,” he advised AFP.
“With the exception of one or two species, most falcon populations are in decline or on the point of being unstable.”
With ongoing efforts to curtail rampant poaching failing, some officers in Pakistan have urged regulating the falcon trapping market, impressed by a scheme involving one other uncommon native species, the markhor — an elusive mountain goat with hanging twisted horns present in Pakistan’s mountainous north.
Every 12 months, foreigners shell out tens of 1000’s of {dollars} for a handful of trophy looking permits, offering a monetary incentive for communities to stop poaching.
Naeem Ashraf Raja, the director of biodiversity on the ministry of local weather change, mentioned markhor numbers have rebounded consequently of this controversial conservation methodology.
With looking events set to descend on Pakistan once more over the following few months, Kamran Khan Yousafzai, the president of Pakistan’s Falconry Association, mentioned the nation desperately must implement a sustainable wildlife programme.
“Arab falconers can’t resist coming to Pakistan. They have been coming to these hunting grounds for generations, and unless they face any real problems, they are not going to search for new destinations.”

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