The federal government has issued at least four export permits to Gulf royal family members for the internationally protected, highly rare falcons, which are facing extinction threat, in violation of national laws and international commitments related to nature conservation, it emerged on Saturday.
By issuing the permits for the export of 43 falcons, the government put at stake the country’s free access to the highly lucrative European Union market under the Generalised System of Preference (GSP-Plus) facility, sources said.
The sources said the country faced the risk of losing billions of Euros worth GSP-Plus facility that binds the government to strictly observe and implement the country’s international commitments particularly those relating to nature conservation and environment.
Conditions set under the GSP-Plus status were reviewed from time to time by EU monitors, they said, adding that the next review regarding Pakistan’s GSP-Plus status was expected within the next few weeks.
Prime minister Nawaz Sharif granted the permissions for the falcons export in November, said the sources. The permits had been issued by foreign ministry’s deputy chief of protocol Muazzam Ali for the members of the royal family of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the sources said.
According to the sources, two permits have been issued to Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, Governor of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, and one each in the name of King Hamad Bin Isa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, Bahrain; and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammad bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, crown prince of Emirate of Dubai (the UAE) and member of the royal family.
The sources said the governor of Tabuk was given a permit on November 8 for the export of eight falcons but he made another request that was granted by the prime minister on November 14 for the export of 10 more falcons.
Prince Fahd had attracted international attention earlier this year when a report about his hunting of 2,100 internationally protected houbara bustard in Chagai district of Balochistan was highlighted by the media.
The sources said that Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifa was allowed on November 7 to export 10 falcons, while crown prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammad bin Rashid Al-Maktoum was permitted on November 20 to export 15 falcons.
The Arab Sheikhs were more interested in saker and peregrine falcons — the migratory species which leave their cold central Asian habitat every year to spend their winters in relatively warmer environment here — as they used them to hunt the internationally protected houbara bustard that they believed had aphrodisiac qualities.
Trapping, trading and export of the saker and peregrine falcons is banned by all the provincial wildlife protection laws in the country and there were no designated markets where these birds could be sold / bought.
The sources said that in the absence of designated falcon markets from where the three permits holders – king, crown prince and governor – could purchase the falcons, only the underground black wildlife market would thrive as falcon trapping was illegal in the country.
A good falcon could easily fetch between 10 million Pakistani rupees (US$99,500) and 100 million Pakistani rupees, according to the sources.
They said Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) as well as the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).
A federal law, Pakistan Trade Control of Fauna and Flora Act 2012 also restricts any trade (import, export of saker and Peregrine falcons) in falcons. They said the CMS was an intergovernmental treaty aimed at conserving terrestrial, marine and avian species over the whole of their migratory range. Only last month, they said, the saker falcon Global Action Plan was adopted by the CMS signatories at a meeting held in Ecuador.
In this situation, conservationists strongly demand cancellation of all the falcon export permits issued to the ruling family members of the Gulf states not only to avoid violation of its local wildlife protection / conservation laws but also to save its delegates attending international conservation meetings from embarrassment.