Saudi prince killed endangered birds: Pakistan officials

QUETTA, Pakistan - A Saudi prince with a taste for the traditional sport of falconry illegally hunted 2,100 endangered birds while on holiday in Pakistan, officials said Wednesday.

Wildlife officials in Baluchistan province alleged to AFP that Prince Fahd bin Sultan and others in his party used specially trained falcons to kill the internationally protected houbara bustards while on a three-week trip in January.

For more than a thousand years Bedouin falconers hunted the houbara bustard as a vital source of meat, according to experts.

Jaffar Baloch, divisional forest officer in Chagai district of Baluchistan, said he had passed the details to his "superiors".

Another senior official in the Baluchistan forestry department confirmed the illegal hunting. "We requested our superiors to stop this practice in future, these birds are already endangered," the official told AFP, asking for anonymity.

Hunting houbara bustards is banned in Pakistan but authorities issue special permits to wealthy visitors from Arab countries. Permit holders can hunt up to 100 of the protected birds in 10 days, but only in certain areas.

The prince had the permit, the official said, but added: "The prince hunted down 1,977 birds himself and 123 were hunted by people travelling with him."

Arab sheikhs are notoriously enthusiastic hunters, travelling to Pakistan each year to hunt the bird using the traditional Arabian method, arriving by private jets from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Their wildly extravagant parties are allotted private hunting grounds in Sindh, Baluchistan and Punjab provinces by the Pakistani government.

Provincial home secretary Asad Gilani told AFP that it was the job of wildlife authorities to stop illegal hunting.

According to conservative estimates, between 500,000 and a million birds migrate through Pakistan each year flying south from Siberia to pass the winter in central and south Asia.