The Wildlife officials said they had received information that the falcons were being booked at the Islamabad Airport for Doha where dignitaries of Qatar were to receive them.
The accused was booked under Section 12 (absence of certificate of lawful possession), section 14 (restrictions on import and export of animals, trophies or meat, etc) and section 28 (duty to produce permit on demand made by any officer or person authorised) of the Punjab Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act 1974.
The court allowed the Wildlife Department to take the Siberian falcons to Lahore Zoo after Assistant Director Wildlife Department Rawalpindi Mohammad Nadeem Qureshi submitted that proper care of the wild birds could only be possible in Lahore where trained staff and relevant facilities were available.
The assistant director said the recovered birds included two species of Churrig falcons and Saker falcons that migrated to Pakistan from Siberia in every winter and spent the season in Cholistan.
Usually, the hunters bait the wild birds with live prey by tying a dead bird with the claws of local eagle or other prey birds with traps. The birds are flown in the air inviting the Siberian falcons to snatch the prey from them and as they fight with eagles both the birds are tied with nylon wires, said the Wildlife official.
The way these majestic birds of prey are treated after they are captured is truly barbaric. After the capture, he said, the hunters stitch the eyes of the untamed falcons to avoid their attacks and keep them in captivity in a bid to tame and train them. The trainers do not allow the falcons to sleep at night to tame them and get attached with their trainers.
The official said slowly and gradually the eyes of the falcons are unstitched after they get used to human touch and company and are often sold to dignitaries in Saudi Arabia for hunting.
The falcons are again brought to Pakistan by Arab dignitaries as only they are allowed to hunt Houbara Bustard here.
Observers say the most prized falcons can fetch prices ranging in millions of rupees, while even average birds can sell for hundreds of thousands of rupees.
The rescue of the falcons once again highlights the issue of the smuggling of threatened species.
Observers say that though such smuggling continues, efforts are being made to crack down on it.
The State needs to remain vigilant and continue its efforts to counter the smuggling of animals.
Pakistan’s fragile biodiversity is under attack due to a range of factors: illegal hunting, poaching and smuggling are just a few of these.
Meanwhile, the Punjab Forest, Wildlife and Fisheries Department has sought help from three countries for the well-being of over 40 falcons it seized just before their smuggling to a Gulf country.
The officials say the birds are facing health problems at the Lahore Zoo because of lack of treatment facility for the critically endangered species in Pakistan. This is a pity and shameful that a country like Pakistan lacks even such basic facilities to treat such birds. They say the help has been sought from England, France and Abu Dhabi as these countries have a special treatment facility for falcons.
The zoo is now responsible for housing and feeding the birds till any further step taken by the wildlife department.
Out of 53 birds 12 died during transportation and unfavourable weather conditions. At the zoo, the falcons have been kept under a strict vigil and representatives of WWF, IUCN, Falcon Foundation Pakistan, and local wildlife staff are taking care of them. No one is allowed to see the birds as it may cause infection to them.
Microchips have been transplanted in all the captive falcons with the help of Falcon Foundation.
The official says if any of these countries gives a positive response to the request forwarded by the department, the birds will be handed over to it after signing a MoU under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Secretary (Wildlife) Babar Bharwana says falcons are precious and some of them are worth Rs4 million. “These falcons are critically endangered specie and we are very much concerned about their future.” He says if the request is entertained by any of the three countries the birds will be moved for some five months to that country and will be released back in nature in March-April.