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Falcons in Pakistan: Birds of prey fall as they are hunted by poachers

The Independent logo The Independent 26/2/2021 Hana O
a bird sitting on top of a grass covered field © The Independent Singapore a bird sitting on top of a grass covered field © The Independent Singapore

Karachi, Pakistan – The thriving black market of falcon poaching continues to be an issue of concern. It is an officially banned activity, yet demand for these birds of prey only increase.

Every year, falcons migrate from Siberia down to Pakistan for warmer weather. When they do, wildlife traffickers follow and trap the birds for export to the Gulf States, where Arab sheikhs and their wealthy friends buy, train and use these falcons for their hunting exhibitions.

An Arab falconer usually owns around five to six hundred birds, most of which are captured in Pakistan or Mongolia, reported AFP.

Falconry continues to be a treasured tradition in Gulf countries. Wild birds are preferred over those bred in captivity as they are said to be better hunters.

Poachers specifically target the peregrine falcon, whose population remains stable, yet also target the saker, an endangered specie, reported bangkokpost.com on Jan 4, 2021.

One poacher named Muhammad Rafiq shared an experience of catching a falcon during a one-week hunting mission. “I brought it here after hunting and called the dealers from Karachi. One of them put the price at one million dollars. And another fixed the price at one million three thousand rupees,” he told AFP.

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Pakistan banned the hunting of Houbara Bustard, a favorite of falconers, as it became an endangered species due to lack of regulations.

The Supreme Court was then asked to review the ban as it was said to be damaging relations with the Gulf States, considered as key investors in Pakistan. In 2016, the ban was overturned, sparking outrage among conservationists.

The World Wildlife Fund in Pakistan disclosed that falcon poaching is officially banned, yet demand continues to increase. About 700 falcons were illegally smuggled out of Pakistan in 2020, often handled by criminal networks.

A veteran falcon conservationist, Bob Dalton, noted that Pakistani authorities seized dozens of falcons in Oct 2020, with officials estimating the cache to be worth over US$1 million.

Conservations are currently pushing for regulations on falcon exports in an ongoing case at the Islamabad High Court./TISG.

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