The cost of reporting houbara hunting

November 14, 2021

Nazim Jokhio, an amateur video reporter was killed for filming foreigners hunting houbara bustard. The case is now being pursued due to public pressure

Screengrab from the video made by Nazim Jokhiyo
Screengrab from the video made by Nazim Jokhiyo

Winter does not come alone; it brings many Arab dignitaries to Pakistan. The desert and mainland areas of Sindh and Balochistan are considered ideal for hunting. This has been going on for years. In the early months of winter, migratory birds come to Sindh in large number. They lay eggs here and stay here till March. However, houbara bustard is an endangered species and legally protected from hunting.

Thatta, Koshistan and Kachho areas of Sindh are famous for hunting. Every year, the government issues hunting permits to royal families of Arab countries for hunting houbara bustard with falcons. November 2 was an unusual day for hunters and residents of Dhabjebi city in that the body of a youth, Nazim Jokhio, was found near Malir.

Jokhio, an amateur video reporter, had shot a video of some foreigners hunting houbara bustard and uploaded it on social media. He was asked by local chiefs, MNA Jam Abdul Karim and MPA Jam Awais to delete it, but refused to do so. His brother was then allegedly called to Jam Karim’s farmhouse and some of the latter’s servants came to Jokhio’s home to take him along. After this, Nazim Jokhio released another video on social media alleging that Jam Awais and his men had threatened him with death. He said he had been asked to apologise to the foreigners. According to his family, he was then taken to the Malir farmhouse. The next day his brother and uncle found his body.

Concerns were raised all over Sindh when news of Jokhio’s death spread. Due to pressure from his family and the Jokhio community, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah took notice of the murder. He directed police officials to register a case according to the narrative of the deceased’s relatives. The police have since registered a murder complaint against PPP lawmakers, MNA Jam Abdul Karim and MPA Jam Awais. Both are currently in police custody.

“They forcibly took my husband to the farmhouse, as he was trying to prevent an Arab hunter from poaching. My life has been ruined for no better reason than houbara bustard hunting. Servants of Jam Abdul Karim and Salar took my husband away at night. They tortured him to death. I need justice. I have three daughters. How can I feed them? I will fight for my husband’s killing for as long as I live. A feudal lord has done this to me and my family. Some of the culprits are still missing”, says Nazim Jokhio’s widow.

The Jokhio community staged a protest demonstration against the sardars of Dhabeji. The murder has become a high-profile case and civil society and political parties of Sindh appear to be actively building pressure on the government.

The cost of reporting houbara hunting

The main reason for the decreasing number of houbara is hunting. However, there should be conservation plans for houbara species. Such programs must be developed on the community level so that the community itself tries to protect them.

Local sardars and dignitaries traditionally facilitate Arab guests and offer them warm hospitality. However, the authority for issuance of hunting permits does not lie with the provincial government. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) issues these permits. Recently, 14 Arab dignitaries have been officially granted permits for hunting houbara bustard in Sindh this year.

This year the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) had forwarded recommendations to provincial governments for Falconry Season 2021-2022 (excluding protected areas) with a request to provinces to issue necessary permits in accordance with the wildlife law. This is despite the fact that a case challenging the controversial hunting of houbara bustards has been pending in court. The World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF) in a position statement released in 2020 had called for an immediate ban on the hunting of the bird keeping in view its vulnerable IUCN red list status and the threats the species faced in its entire range in general and in Pakistan in particular.

“In the month of October migratory birds travel to Asia. There are 47,000 to 55,000 houbara birds in the world. Every year nearly 17,000 migratory birds travel to Pakistan. These birds are becoming rarer,” Nadeem Mirbahar of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management tells The News on Sunday (TNS).

“When houbara bustards arrive in Pakistan, the hunt starts. They also suffer for other reasons. Their habitats are shrinking as people have start living in some of the places where these birds used to make nests. This is called ecosystem disturbance. It prevents houbara bustards from laying their eggs in peace. The main reason for the declining number of houbara bustards is hunting. There should be better conservation plans for houbara species. Such programs must be developed on the community level so that the community itself tries to protect them. Tourism activities should be enhanced,” he adds.

The autopsy report revealed that Nazim Jokhio was beaten with an iron rod and other objects. He had severe head injuries and bruises all over his face. Both his hands were found swollen with deep bruising. There was blood clotting in his head.

“The law allow for sustainable hunting. Many countries allow no hunting of endangered species; Pakistan is one of the countries that allow sustainable hunting. Arab dignitaries come here when the houbara bustard arrives in Sindh. Hunting is not allowed in the breeding season. There are rules and regulations to follow. I believe that some people mislead others regarding the hunt. Better awareness and education is needed”, says Javed Mahar, the chief conservator of wildlife.

The writer is a fiction writer,  blogger and journalist

The cost of reporting houbara hunting