UPDATE: Balancing Conservation and Hunting in Altai

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UDPATE!!! The Altai Project learned that the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources has removed this proposal from consideration, likely due to public outcry against it. A number of our partners sent well-argued appeals and the issue was covered frequently for several days in the national and regional media. The power of speaking out![/box]

As in other parts of the world, Altai Republic must find ways to balance recreational and subsistence hunting with the need for protecting wildlife resources. Resident species like Siberian ibex, Altai argali sheep, and red maral deer are popular with trophy-hunting enthusiasts, while musk deer, lynx, wolves are also targeted by subsistence herder-hunters (often using dangerous wire snares) seeking to pad their meager incomes with the sale of pelts and other animal derivatives.

In early July, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources announced that it was considering delisting Altai argali from its equivalent of the Endangered Species List, the Russian Red Book, and implementing a structured trophy-hunting system for mature male sheep. Carefully managed trophy-hunting can and has been successful in other parts of the world but can only be successful when combined with effective anti-poaching enforcement, strictly enforced quotas, and a clearly defined and implemented economic benefit to local residents. When this proposal was made known, the response within Altai was uniformly and strongly in opposition. Conservation enforcement is generally quite weak, and there is no belief the local community would derive any benefit from trophy-hunting. In addition, the indigenous Telengit people living in Altai argali habitat have a taboo on killing the sheep. Many experts believe that well-connected rich trophy-hunters are behind the proposal.

Even the local Altai Republic administration finds the proposal shortsighted. On July 10, the Republic’s Wildlife Conservation Committee began considering a proposal to enact a broad 2 to 3 year moratorium on trophy- and sport-hunting throughout the region. They are also discussing a 3-year ban on hunting lynx, moose, and musk deer. These commercial hunting species are not endangered but have seen their numbers fall under pressure from hunters. In addition, enforcement remains difficult with limited staff and financial resources spread over a vast area.

There has been significant outcry in local and national media on the argali trophy-hunting proposal, including public statements by Siberian Environmental Center biologists, Greenpeace-Russia’s Mikhail Kreindlin, and regional news outlets. Commenters on all websites have been uniformly against this proposal.