Earlier this month, coast guards in Kuwait intercepted a ship attempting to smuggle 100 Asian MacQueen's Bustards Chlamydotis macqueenii, recognized as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The species is threatened by hunting and trapping throughout its range, particularly in its wintering habitat of Pakistan and Iran. The bird is in high demand in the region for use as live prey in falconry training.
In a press statement issued by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior, the Public Relations and Security Media Department explained that the Coast Guard Department was inspecting foreign ships that were heading to Doha Port, when they discovered the Iranian ship with its load of birds. Also discovered on board were 16 falcons of various species, mostly Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus.
Kuwait Environment Protection Society (KEPS– BirdLife International’s Kuwaiti partner) investigated the case and confirmed that all the birds on board had been poached from the wild and were being transported without any legal documents. The offenders are currently in custody and will be dealt with according to Kuwaiti law. Commenting on the issue, Wejdan Al-Oqab, KEPS Secretary General, says “There are hundreds of birds, including MacQueen's Bustard and eagles, illegally killed every year”.
“We are working hard to protect threatened animal populations and work closely with law enforcement agencies to protect biodiversity and enforce national and international wildlife laws to ensure that the trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival”.
Numbers of MacQueen's Bustard have fallen dramatically in recent decades. The species is threatened by a number of factors, including the degradation of their vegetation habitat by livestock grazing, but hunting remains the biggest threat to its future.
The species is protected under international wildlife treaties. The Asian MacQueen's Bustard is roughly the same size as a turkey and typically has a large, speckled sandy brown upper body, a creamy white underside and long legs, a slender neck and a wingspan that can reach 1.5 meters. Its colouring acts as camouflage in the desert and sandy plains, providing a challenge for hunters and their falcons.
The MacQueen's Bustard is the game bird of choice for Arab falconers, because it is a good match for the falcons. There is such strong demand for the bird in the region that some hunters are willing to use illicit means to acquire them.