Ecological and Economic Effects of Trophy Hunting
In the 1990s, the license fee for a Markhor Hunt was around $25,000; today it is over $100,000.
The ongoing news about trophy hunting of markhor and ibex has started integrating open discussions. Many have questioned the morals of this practice, while others have asked about its social, environmental and financial effect.
Let’s take a gander at the ecological and financial impacts of trophy hunting in its historical context. Well, we’ll take Gilgit Baltistan (GB) example in this case.
Trophy Hunting in Gilgit Baltistan (GB)
History of Trophy Hunting in Gilgit Baltistan (GB)
Trophy hunting in Gilgit Baltistan isn’t new. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the royal state of Kashmir turned into a heaven for major game hunters of the British Raj.
Uncontrolled Markhor Hunting During British Period
Before the finish of the nineteenth century, serious hunting by British sportsmen had driven the Kashmir markhor to local extinction in the Pir Panjal Range around the Vale of Kashmir.
The sportsmen now looked north towards Gilgit, Astore and Baltistan to proceed with their quest for markhor and ibex. Here, they shot markhor and ibex of all sizes with relative exemption.
Markhor endured more than ibex in this British surge in light of the fact that the previous remains at moderately lower heights so it is easy to chase and hunt.
In some cases, a single hunter shot more than 30 animals in a single season.
Subsequent to being shot out in the Vale of Kashmir as early as the 1890s, markhor were also meeting a similar destiny in Gilgit and Baltistan.
One reason for this assertion is that unlike today, when there are legal limits on which animals can be shot — only markhor or ibex with a trophy of 38 inches or more can be shot — British sportsmen are reported to have shot animals with trophies in the lower 30s.
Steps taken to Protect Markhors
In 1913, the Kashmir Game Preservation Department put a total restriction on markhor hunting in the Bunji Valley in Gilgit and Rondu Valley near Skardu, which harboured one of the greatest populations of the Astore markhor.
There are no solid figures of the markhor and ibex populace from that time to survey the effect of trophy hunting on the general population, however, it might be sensible to expect that there were instances of nearby extinction due to overhunting.
Social Damages during British Period
Trophy hunting by the British in this region was not just biologically and ecologically harming, it also had a dark social underbelly. The predominant types of transport on the Srinagar-Gilgit road, at that time, were pack animals and people.
Harnessing Conservation for Development
Things have changed significantly in the course of the last 100 years. Today, residents across GB welcome hunting parties to their towns and are anxious to take an interest in the trophy hunting program that was started by the government during the 1990s.
The programme has had a positive economic impact on the participating communities. Under this arrangement, the communities were asked to take actions to protect the ibex and markhor populations in their areas in return for a share of revenue generated by the sale of hunting licenses to international and national hunters.
Initially, six communities were selected under this programme, and today more than 40 communities participate in it throughout GB.
Markhor and Ibex Hunting License Fees
Under the scheme, communities receive 80 per cent of the licence fee and the GB government gets 20pc. In the 1990s, the license fee for a markhor hunt was around $25,000; today it is over $100,000.
The license fee for ibex is $3,000 for international hunters, and Rs100,000 for Pakistani nationals. No Pakistanis have purchased shooting licenses for markhor given the high cost.
Each year around 60 hunting permits for ibex and four hunting permits for markhor are issued in GB. Out of the 60 permits for ibex, about 10pc to 15pc are reserved for national hunters.
The money from trophy hunting is distributed to the participating communities at the end of the hunting season in April-May. This money has served as a strong incentive for communities to protect the markhor and ibex in their areas.
In some villages, everyone has a ‘share’ of the money raised through the trophy hunting programme. Villagers no longer hunt animals themselves, although they did in the past.
While in some other villages, the money from trophy hunting goes to a fund and then used on a variety of projects. For example, the money was used to build a guesthouse that cost Rs1.3 million, fund healthcare, provide scholarships and provide loan[s] at low-interest rates for people to start businesses such as grocery stores and small restaurants.
Impacts of Trophy Hunting Program
Ecologically, it seems that the trophy hunting programme has had a mixed impact.
It is estimated that when the programme was scaled up in the 1990s, there were around 100 markhors in GB. Today, GB government officials claim that the number is close to 1,200. The ibex population has been reported to have seen a similar rise; GB wildlife department officials say that it stands at more than 10,000.
While some contest the reliability and validity of these figures, the officials state that they are based on the wildlife population surveys it carries out twice a year. These surveys are conducted in conjunction with representatives of communities and NGOs. In these surveys, the department determines the population of trophy-sized animals and sets the quota for each area accordingly.
The effect of trophy hunting on the overall population of markhor and ibex may be positive; however, there are two other concerns that ecologists have with trophy hunting.
The first concern is that because of selective hunting of the biggest male trophies, over time, the average trophy size decreases — thus affecting population fitness. This may or may not be true of Pakistan’s trophy hunting programme because despite its seeming success, there is no study which has looked at this relationship. It would require charting the the size of all markhor and ibex trophies over the last 20 years or so.
The second concern with trophy hunting is its effect on snow leopards and wolves, the main predators of markhor and ibex. Farmers already see these predators as a threat because they kill domestic livestock. Incentives created through trophy hunting have added intensity to this preexisting negative relationship between farmers and predators in the region.
Villagers are often seeing complaining that the snow leopards are eating their markhor which are worth “aik lakh dollar.”
The incentives created through the trophy hunting programme have introduced a new ethic in the concerned communities whereby their relationship with ibex and markhor is redefined. This new relationship is based on market ethic and rationality, in which these species are seen in purely utilitarian terms.
People now protect their wild game species not as God’s creation, but as an economic asset.
What Should the Government do?
There are some regulatory steps that the wildlife department can take to ensure that only those villages will get the permit where there is no persecution of predators. But this is very hard to monitor and requires periodic surveys and equipment.
For now, one can only rely on the goodwill of the communities that they will provide protection to all wildlife and not just those which bring in economic benefits.
Markhor as a Trophy Animal
The markhor, a goat endemic to the area, was a standout amongst the most looked for species of big game hunters due to its unique trophy. The markhor was of particular attraction for the sportsmen who favoured it over its cousin, the Asiatic ibex.
The markhor is Pakistan’s national animal. It belongs to the Caprinae Family, it is a wild goat with flaring horns that can achieve an amazing length of five feet.
Originally published here