Pakistan seizes Qatari prince's prized falcons for illegal hunting

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - Wildlife officials in Pakistan fined a Qatari prince and seized two of his prized hunting falcons after he was discovered illegally hunting a rare bird species, an official said on Thursday.

The confiscated falcons - which can be worth upwards of $250,000 each - were released into the wild this week, said Khan Malook, a district wildlife officer in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The prince, identified as Sheikh Abdullah bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani, paid a fine of 80,000 rupees ($800) before leaving the country, Malook said.

The Qatari was discovered hunting houbara bustards, listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in the area in mid-January, he said.

Pakistan has come under fire from conservationists for granting permits for hunting bustards to wealthy Gulf Arabs, for whom falconry is a revered cultural tradition.

The sheikh, however, had no permit for hunting, Malook said.

Representatives of the Qatari royal family could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Robert Birsel