Manama: The families and lawyers of Saudis detained for poaching and hunting huge numbers of ‘dhabi’, a spiny tailed lizard found in the deserts of Gulf countries, have appealed for their release.
“They did nothing wrong and did not break any laws,” Fayez Al Otaibi, the brother of one of the detainees, said. “There is no law that bans hunting dhabi and those who were detained were not hurting in reserves, but in open areas. There are so many people today who are hunting the lizard as a hobby,” he said in remarks carried by local new site Sabq on Saturday.
Al Otaibi attributed the arrests to the “fuss raised about the issue after pictures were circulated on the net.”
“The way they were arrested gives the impression they were implicated in a security plot. It is just hunting animals that were eventually given to relatives and friend,” he said. “I urge the interior minister and the chairman of the Saudi Wildlife Commission to give orders to release our sons and not to punish them for what they did as they broke no law or committed an offense. They are not criminals,” he said.
Other relatives, as well as their lawyers, supported the arguments to release them, insisting that the hunt expedition was perfectly legal and did not clash with Islamic norms.
Prince Bandar Bin Saud, the chairman of the Saudi Wildlife Commission, confirmed on Friday that the men who were involved in the lizard poaching were arrested.
He added that the arrests were made “thanks to the positive response to the calls made two weeks ago to help identify and detain the poachers.”
Prince Bandar in late April urged people to come forward with information that could help the interior ministry and the commission tackle illegal poaching and hunting.
He made the appeal hours after social media sites circulated a picture of two men proudly standing near a truckload of dhabi.
“This is a crime against the environment and an outrageous violation of our Islamic values that reject such attitudes,” Prince Bandar said.
“Poaching is also against all laws enacted by the kingdom to protect and preserve wildlife and natural assets. Attacking people is a form of terrorism and so is abusing animals,” he said in remarks carried by news site Sabq on Tuesday.
The chairman added that the poaching had occurred outside the natural reserves under the commission.
“This means that the interior ministry is in charge and the commission is cooperating with them to help find those who engaged in this heinous act in order to prevent a repeat,” he said.
“We urge all those who possess any information about this case or similar cases to contact the interior ministry or the commission. Such cooperation stances help us preserve the nation’s wealth and protect animals from extinction.”
However, Prince Bandar denied claims that the commission had offered a SR30,000 (Dh29,381) reward to anyone who provided information that could lead to the arrest of the two men.
“We at the commission have been deeply shocked and disturbed by the pictures on the internet, and we do need to work together for the sake of wildlife,” he said.
Saudis have called for stringent action against anyone who catches excessive quantities of dhabi and said that the authorities should act quickly and decisively to stem the wildlife hunting threats and to make sure that poachers do not feel they can operate with impunity.
Abdullah Al Qhidani, a Saudi national with an interest in wildlife, said the spiny tailed lizards were in danger of extinction.
“They have been victims of wild hunting in the last few years, often in large quantities, and there are today regions where they can no longer be seen,” he said. “We used to see them in large numbers, but today, we have to look for them painstakingly and when we do find them, they are just a few,” he told Sabq.
Al Qhidani insisted action be taken against anyone engaged in wild hunting or poaching.
“What the two men did was an environmental disaster and it should be addressed without any room for leniency or complacency,” he said. “All forms of abuse must be resisted and eliminated to ensure there is no extinction of wildlife because of the irresponsible and outrageous behaviour of some people,” he said.
Online comments were overwhelmingly in support of action against the two men, with some people presenting religious arguments to explain their views.
“Islam is against all forms of excess and abuses and that is exactly what these two men did,” a commenter writing under the moniker Frustrated said. “Hunting should be to eat according to the needs, not to show off. We are putting our trees, animals and natural resources at risk because of the reckless and antireligious behaviour of some people.”
Magoor, in his online comments, said that he was a hunter who never exceeded his needs.
“We do go on hunting trips that usually last two or three days,” he said. “However, it is for fun and we hunt what we need for lunch and dinner. It is a hobby and a form of distraction. Action is needed against excesses,” he said.