If it pays, it stays

Updated: Aug 21, 2018

Taking an in depth look at the recovery of Markhor in Tajikistan,

we look at how hunting saved a species.

I don’t get as much time as I would like to read and study the global issues around conservation. There is simply not enough time in the day to consume all of it. Whether that be the big tickets items like rhino horn poaching or the rapid declines of elephant in Tanzania, or the details of the new muir burn code, or new reports of wind farm impacts on migratory birds, all this information is swimming around the ether. I understand it’s difficult to find spare minutes to consume this, but I implore you to make it your business as a user of the countryside and hunter, to be more informed this week than you were last week.

Before I get to the main point of this article, I feel compelled to vent on a recent barrier I have faced in my efforts to support and promote the good work and benefits of upland management. At the start of the year my production company was commissioned to produce a series of films promoting fieldsports in Scotland. From grouse to red deer, it was going to be all encompassing. With the seasons getting well into the swing of things now, we are gathering the footage together, however we have faced one major issue. With a few very helpful exceptions, getting permission from the guns to agree to have filming take place has been almost impossible. What I find incredibly depressing, is that I personally haven’t had the privilege to shoot driven grouse myself. I can’t afford it, and yet I understand the spin off benefits it delivers, and so I support it. Here we have a situation where the very people who can actually enjoy the fruits of such management, shooting driven grouse, are not prepared to stand and be counted. That is sweeping clearly, and obviously there are many who are happy to show face in driven grouse films, but my experience to date has been one largely of disappointment, and this is with a history and reputation at our end of producing very positive, informative documentaries which support the industry. This is not how we move forward and is a serious issue.

Moving on from this, and to the focus of this article, I want to direct you towards a recent publication on biographic.com about Markhor. This article serves only to highlight the contents of the original publication, and much of what follows must be credited to this. Biographic itself is part of the California Academy of Sciences, a renowned scientific and educational institution “dedicated to exploring, explaining and sustaining life on earth.”

The original piece was captured by three individuals. Joel Caldwell and Sebastian Kennerknecht produced the tremendous photography, having worked for the BBC and National Geographic amongst many others. The story was written by Dr Jason Goldman, a science journalist and wildlife reporter.

The story follows a hunter from Alaska who headed to Tajikistan to hunt Bukharan Markhor. A species which has a rather incredible recovery story, and much of which is owed to the fact it is sought after and hunted by foreigners in search of adventure and the chance to take this magnificent creature. When the Soviet Union’s strangle of these Asian countries subsisted in 1991, fewer than 700 individuals remained in the wild. Most of this decline, as is often the case with much of what we discuss, lay with illegal, local poaching. Although previously listed as endangered by the IUCN, today this has improved to “near threatened”.

The question of how this recovery has been achieved lies at the core of the original article, and something I touched on many months back as an example spin off from the IUCN report on trophy hunting. It viewed its as has being an important tool for the conservation of many species.

This is, quite possibly, one of the most expensive hunts in the world, with the hunter of this story, a Mr Cambell, paying $120,000 dollar for the privilege to hunt. The bottom line is that this money is what has saved a species.

They have modeled their management on the previous success seen in very similar circumstances with the Suleiman Markhor in Pakistan. Here, where the uncontrolled hunting for meat was the primary threat to the population demise. The creation of a hunting conservancy, where poachers become game guards, was funded by limited and carefully managed trophy hunting. This project turned around the fate of a species, rapidly reversing the decline in Markhor, and brought in $2.7million dollars over 15 years directly to the local people. The population of Markhor has grown from less than 100 to over 3500.

A fascinating aspect of the moral conflict identified by Dr Jason Goldman, lies with the big cat conservation group Panthera. At the same time the Tajik community was attempting to replicate the success in Pakistan with their Markhor, Panthera began work there with snow leopard. Without repeating everything in the original article, although not supportive of the trophy hunting of big cats, they did support it when it came to prey species population. More prey such as Markhor, funded by hunting, the greater the survival chances for the species of primary interest to them – the snow leopard.

Goldman goes on to explain, through direct conversations he had on location with the very people taking and managing the hunting conservancy, just what an impact the regulated and legal hunting has had. With just three hunters, over three hunts, the lives of these remote communities had vastly improved. From piped water to schooling and teachers’ salaries, the vested interest of the local people is what has protected the species. As I always say, unless you have the support of the community where these species live, be that exotic animals like Markhor, or the red deer of Scotland, they will cease to exist.

For those who are quick to deny how much of the money goes to fund local communities, the break down in this case shows that 60% remains within the the hunting concession. The rest pays for the government permit which is then distributed to regional authorities. Interestingly, Goldman was told that even the funds going to government are used to help wildlife and human interaction. As an example, they provide hay for herders to help remove issues of grazing competition with the wild species.

The honest flip side to this, as Goldman points out, is that it can be hard to identify the whole truth, and it is often said some funds get lost in bribery and corruption.

- A film by our Company - Pace Productions UK

In this case the numbers don’t lie. Whatever you think of someone wishing to travel to the other side of the world to hunt a hairy goat with big horns, their contribution and will to venture to parts of the world few others wish to go, is what has protected a species which was on the verge of collapse. So I ask this this question of the vehement anti-hunting public. Would you rather this species vanish from our planet or allow this sustainable harvest, which not only benefits a species, but goes hand in hand with supporting local communities in a very poor part of the world. Their lives have become intrinsically linked with the survival of the Markhor, and this is the only reason they have flourished today. Their standard of living depends on their ability to protect and conserve, and this realisation has provided one of the fastest recoveries of a critically endangered species in history.

It is vitally important that we as hunters, as well as those people who do not hunt, realise that in the modern world, for a species to carve a sustainable population, it has to provide a benefit to the people who share the landscape with them. That is the basic, brutal truth. Without it, commercialism, and exploitation of minerals and naturals resources, or the pure need to survive, will soon see more and more species added to the history books.

A massive credit to www.biographic.com and those people already mentioned for the vast majority of stats within this article.