Custodial deaths – 70 Falcons Die During the Course of a Protracted Trial in a Karachi Courts

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    Custodial deaths – 70 Falcons Die During the Course of a Protracted Trial in a Karachi Courts

    70 of 75 falcons seized by the customs department of Pakistan and retained in the State’s custody by an order of the court in Karachi have died.

    Ostensibly saved from smugglers, about 75 falcons and a houbara bustard were rescued by customs during a raid in Pakistan over two years ago, in October, 2020. Over the two years, 71 of the 76 birds succumbed to a lack of care, particularly Karachi’s hot, humid weather. The owners of the birds allege that officials of the customs department failed to provide a habitable environment during the long legal battle.

    Falconry is a recognised hobby, with traditional sanction. Trading of the birds is allowed with a special permission from the government. However, 76 falcons were seized in two subsequent raids in Karachi in 2020. The monetary value of the birds exceeded US$ 1 million.

    Upon confiscation of the birds, the custom court initially handling the case dismissed the case in favour of the owners. Since the raids weren’t executed on any entry or exit points of the country, the birds were not necessarily smuggled, it was felt. The court, however, justified the confiscation by acknowledging that the so-called owners violated the Provincial Wildlife Law, 2020 and ruled that the birds should remain in custody under the supervision of the customs department.

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    Keen that they take birds back home, the birds owners, challenged this decision of the customs court.

    Red Tape

    The court’s prolonged process, or as SouthAsians allude to a Bollywood take, the tareekh pe tareekh process meant that the birds stayed with their custodians who did not have a clue of how to care for them.

    In the meanwhile, the falcons, natives of the high mountains, kept suffering the heat of Karachi even though the High Court ordered the trial court to expedite. The Conservator at the Sindh Wildlife Department submitted a report concerning the mortality of the birds in case of delay. The department wanted to ensure that the birds were immediately released but as the case stretched. So did their time in custody.

    The owners presented licences issued by the Chairman of Wildlife Management Board. But officialdom, almost compulsively, challenged the licence issued by a sister department of the government.

    It was contended that issuance of licences had been banned and old ones were terminated in February, 2019.

    More arguments were presented by the prosecution but even after eight months since the court ruled in favour of the bird owners, the high court had not heard the appeal filed by the customs and wildlife department and the birds continued to stay in custody.

    In March 2021, Kamran Khan Yousafzai, head of Pakistan Falconry Association wrote to the Pakistan ministry of climate change to move the birds to Gilgit-Baltistan where the weather would be conducive to the falcons.

    “The falcons cannot survive in temperatures exceeding 34°C,” Yousafzai wrote.

    The court took its own time.

    In the meanwhile, 70 of the magnificent birds could no longer survive the heat and humidity of Karachi – besides, of course, the tedious legal battle.

    Edited by Khushi Malhotra


    Image: Hippopx, licensed to use under Creative Commons Zero – CC0

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