Every winter, the rare houbara bustardmigrates from central Asia to Pakistan's warmer climate, where it is met by a blockade of Arab sheikhs and well-respected visitors seeking to kill it. The birds are officially protected in the country and prized for their valuable meat, which is believed to be an aphrodisiac.
Last Friday, the high court in Lahore announced an interim ban on hunting in Punjab province -- the area where the government had issued special hunting permits to Arab royalty. Previously, Pakistan issued 33 permits allowing dignitaries to kill up to 100 birds each in just this year alone -- enraging animal advocates.
"Is there any more ridiculous reason to kill an animal?" said Naeem Sadiq, a Karachi-based activist. "If it's illegal for Pakistanis to kill these birds why should the Arab sheikhs be allowed to do it?"
The court was responding to activists who have called for an all-out ban, without exemptions for royalty and that are long term. According to the Guardian, the move comes not a moment too soon:
Numbers of houbara, which are considered to be at risk of extinction by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, have fallen dramatically in recent decades. They have been almost wiped out on the Arabian peninsula and various countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, have set up breeding programmes to try to revive numbers.
Thanks to a push from activists, local officials are becoming more aware of the issue.
"Arab dignitaries have been coming for hunting for decades and decades -- it's a longstanding tradition," Tasneem Aslam, from Pakistan's ministry of foreign affairs, told the Guardian. "Ten years ago there wasn't so much public awareness about the issue but now we see more voices raising their concern."