Pakistan, particularly Punjab, has been home to a rare species of birds known as the houbara bustard. This bird is famous amongst Arab hunters who pay a wholesome amount to come down to Pakistan to hunt the bird and in return, they provide funds for human development, housing, access to potable water, health and education and infrastructure development (roads and airports). While the gesture of allocation of funds for the development of Pakistan may be acceptable to certain segments of the government, what it is doing for the species is a decline in its numbers. This has been confirmed by three successive surveys, highlighting the decline in houbara population from 2017 to 2019.

According to the Houbara Bustard Commission, “the overall estimated population of houbara (bustard) in Punjab was 6,223, 6,759 and 5,302 individuals during December 2017, December 2018 and December 2019 surveys, respectively, suggesting a decrease in the population of houbara in Punjab province over the years.” This is due to a number of factors, the first no doubt the hunting of the species. However, there are other contributing factors to the problem as well. These include the lack of establishment of enough feeding points for these birds. Rare species need special attention, which is not being granted to this bird. At the same time, the captivity of these birds is also a huge problem.

Several people capture these birds in attempts to release them for money. They restrict their movements by cutting off their feathers. The practice of releasing these birds has also gone down, which means captivity rates are still high. “The population decline that has been established during 2019 surveys could be more severe if the feeding points were not added and captive birds were not released before the December 2019 surveys”, according to the Houbara Bustard Commission.

The government needs to actively invest and understand the protection of rare species within Pakistan. Those responsible for the protection of the environment should also look into ways to curb such blatant hunting of the species and how the government can make up for the revenue through other channels instead of capitalising on the ecosystem of animals within Pakistan. The ban by the Lahore High Court (LHC) on the hunting of these species should also be materialised, along with establishing coordination channels between World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan, Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department, International Union for Conservation of Nature-Pakistan, Zoological Survey of Pakistan and Houbara Foundation International Pakistan.