“To protect a rare Central Asian goat—and the snow leopards that depend on it—conservationists are turning to an unlikely ally: trophy hunters,” writes wildlife reporter Jason G Goldman
Goldman is tracing the footsteps of avid trophy hunter Bill Campbell, a doctor with his own private psychiatry practice. Several months before, Campbell had made the 5,000 mile journey from the US to the ‘rooftop of the world’, the remote Pamir mountains of Tadjikistan with the single purpose of adding a rare markhor goat to his extensive trophy collection. He paid $120,000 for the privilege of shooting it.
“It’s probably the most expensive hunt in the world,” Campbell says. “This is basically where my income goes.”
This is what a markhor looks like (alive) with its characteristic twisted horns, and this is where they live.
By the early 90s in spite of their nigh-on inaccessible habitat, markhor were close to extinction, the inevitable result of local poaching for meat and a certain amount of illegal trophy hunting. In 1994, in stepped the IUCN, placing the goats on the Red List of species that are Critically Endangered. Over the following decade numbers rose sufficiently for the species to move up a level (or down, whichever way you look at it) to Near Threatened.
Goldman asserts that during his trip to Tadjikistan, “I learned that wealthy hunters like Campbell are the main reason that Bukharan markhor still exist at all—despite how uncomfortable that truth may be.
“Some hunters, of course, are almost certainly engaged in a vainglorious pursuit of power. But after spending time with dozens of Tajik hunting guides and wildlife biologists on two markhor hunting concessions in southern Tajikistan, I discovered that painting the entire hunting community with such a broad brush ignores a reality: the trophy hunters who attempt to engage honestly with the thorny ethical quandaries underlying their pastime, who go out of their way to have their fun in an ecologically and socially responsible manner.”
Seriously? Who is he kidding? Is he really expecting us to feel for the mental and emotional turmoil the poor hunters suffer while they are ‘having their fun’, rather than for their innocent victims, trying to survive and rear young in a harsh environment, suddenly confronted by a man with a gun?
Goldman continues to embellish the myth of the sensitive soul that is the trophy hunter. He quotes the reflections of another of the super-rich, this time from South Africa, who trekked for days over inhospitable mountain terrain to get within shooting range of a markhor: “You’re faced with sadness and joy. Joy that you achieved what you did, but there’s a sadness associated with it. It’s a very emotional time when you look at an animal you’ve just killed.”
O – M – G
Sadly Bill Campbell’s hunt too was ‘successful’. “It was a beautiful animal in a beautiful setting. It was the most exciting hunt of my life.”
Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the US is also a man who knows how to hit his target, but his weapon is words: “Cruel, self-aggrandizing, larcenous, and shameful,” is his judgement on trophy hunting.
The concession where Campbell bagged his markhor issues only one hunting licence per year. As Tadjikistan is an exporter of gold, the argument goes that selling licences to rich hunters like him enable privately held lands to be managed for wildlife, when they might well otherwise be despoiled by mining.
But licence money alone is not enough to halt the decline of these rare goats. Not unless villagers are incentivised to stop poaching. The goats’ value is not in some (illegal) internationally tradeable commodity like elephant ivory or rhino horn. Their value is as a local source of food.
The long-established Torghar Conservation Project in neighbouring Pakistan that both pays the locals as game guards and also turns over to them the ‘lion’s share’ of the meat from licensed hunting suggested a possible model for Tadjikistan.
Enter Panthera, the only organization in the world devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s wild cats. Panthera gives support to the local communities in the form of wildlife monitoring training, as well as hardware such as binoculars and vehicles. The organisation’s interest in conserving markhors however, is only as the preferred prey of snow leopards. More markhors mean more snow leopards.
To this end they are happy to assist the local people not only to interface with their government and the IUCN, but also international hunting organisations. Not just WWF, then.
This is the official version of what happens to the $120,000 Campbell and his ilk hand over for their licence to kill:
- $41,000 to the Tadjiki government
- Of that money, $8,200 is channeled into national government coffers
- According to the Mamadnazarbekov, Deputy Chair of the Committee for Environmental Protection, ‘a fair amount’ of that $8,200 is used ‘to benefit wildlife and the public’
- The remaining $32,800 is split between regional and local authorities
- ‘Most’ of what is left of the $120,000 after the government takes its cut stays with the private hunting concession and pays for the markhor’s protection, as well as community projects like water pipes and funding for schools
Even Goldman though, the hunters’ apologist is forced to admit:
“It’s hard to determine how much of what Mamadnazarbekov describes is true. Several sources told me that some money must also be spent making various payoffs that aren’t legally justifiable, and that the government doesn’t necessarily spend its share of the revenue as they are supposed to. In a country with a per capita GDP of just 804 U.S. dollars, it’s not hard to imagine why many people here would want a piece of the action. Bribery and corruption may simply be part of the cost of doing business, even when that business is wildlife conservation.”
How easily ethical concerns are dismissed when it comes to justifying trophy hunting.
Goldman continues, “It’s difficult to argue with the results, at least so far. More than 10 years of intense effort have allowed the markhor population in Southern Tajikistan to flourish.”
Well, as a matter of fact, we could argue with the results. Describing the markhor population as flourishing might be over-egging it. Remember that in 2015 the markhor graduated from Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List to Near Threatened? Well, this is how IUCN defines Near Threatened:
A taxon [species] is Near Threatened when it has been evaluated against the criteria but does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable now, but is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.”
Not quite out of the woods yet.
But Tanya Rosen, Panthera’s director of snow leopard protection, reckons to have seen a welcome rise in the cat’s population – we’re talking small numbers here, from 6 to 10. Nevertheless, the highest density of these rare and elusive creatures seen anywhere in the world.
Goldman concludes, “Isn’t it better to sacrifice a few old animals [markhors] in order to maintain an entire functioning ecosystem?” Many of us would answer “NO, absolutely not”. The markhor may not be as iconic as the snow leopard, but its life counts just as much.
In a country with such amazing scenery, wildlife and culture (the ancient Silk Road from India to China runs right through the Pamir mountains), there is much for any visitor that does not come to kill.
BirdLife International has designated a large area around the famously beautiful turquoise Iskanderkul Lake in the Fann mountains an IBA (Important Bird & Biodiversity Area).
Migrant bird visitors and residents include Himalayan snowcocks, saker falcons, cinereous vultures, yellow-billed choughs, Hume’s larks, sulphur-bellied warblers, wallcreepers, Himalayan rubythroats, white-winged redstarts, white-winged snowfinches, alpine accentors, rufous-streaked accentors, brown accentors, water pipits, fire-fronted serins, plain mountain-finches, crimson-winged finches, red-mantled rosefinches and white-winged grosbeaks.
The dramatic rugged terrain makes it a mecca not just for birders, but for all wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers, as well as trekkers, climbers and photographers.
Moreover, Pamir Mountains Ecotourism is ready and waiting to put together your own tailor-made tour. It wouldn’t be cheap, but I doubt it costs $120,000. And isn’t that a much better way to conserve the majestic landscape and all that call it home, human and nonhuman?
Yet no qualms about killing goats on the rooftop of the world trouble the conscience of psychiatrist/hunter Bill Campbell. “I feel good about it in my heart because I feel like I’m promoting really effective conservation,” he says.
Well that’s all right then.
It’s little surprise to find that Campbell is a buddy of dentist Walter Palmer, the infamous killer of Cecil the lion. “I feel sorry for him,” Campbell says. “I think that the people who lynched him [online] don’t realize how much he has done for conservation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Walt spends $250,000 to $500,000 a year hunting. And the people who are lynching him donate 25 bucks to the Sierra Club. Who’s done more for conservation? There’s no comparison.”
Spitting feathers anyone?
Meanwhile, in Tadjikistan’s neighbour Kyrgystan, trophy hunting and corruption go hand in hand.
The Focusing on Wildlife poll: Should trophy hunting in Kyrgystan be banned?
“The hunting of ibex and argali sheep has had a knock-on [effect] on the snow leopard – the situation is so bad we only have three breeding populations of snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan. Hunting and wildlife conservation cannot coexist.”
Emil Shukurov, one of the country’s leading ecologists. Read more
Please sign & share as many as you can – unrelated to Tadjikistan and the markhor, but important nonetheless
BAN Breeding, Trading and Trophy Hunting of Wildlife in South Africa
Mr Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa: Ban ALL Forms of ‘Canned’ & ‘Trophy’ Hunting In South Africa
EU Please Ban The Import Of Wildlife “Trophies” into Europe
Yolanda Kakabadse WWF: End YOUR Trophy Hunting Safaris in Partnership with USA TH Dallas Safari Club
More to be found here. Some are closed, but many are not.
Shoot to Save – bioGraphic
Iskanderkul – Wiki
Shooting lions (and other things that move)
Endangered Animals As You’ve Never Seen Them Before
Man, Money & Rhinos – Unravelling the Tangled Knot of Poaching
8 thoughts on “Shooting Goats on the Rooftop of the World”
A very interesting read. I have heard this reasoning about elephant trophy hunting too. How about the hunter enjoying his hunt and all the “mental and emotional turmoil” and then just shooting a photo of the goat at the end of the day? Of course he would still be expected to pay as he his doing it for the right reasons – conservation, so he says. He just wouldn’t have a stuffed head to hang on his wall. The locals then can use the money to buy their food.
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You are so right Nadia! Thank you. They could still have the fun and sense of achievement of having surmounted physical hardships and rough terrain to locate the ‘target’, without the spilling of blood. If their ‘sport’ was really about conservation they would go out armed with a camera not a gun.
So the narrative continues of the nimrods as heroes and saviors. They spend their hard-earned money for a long flight across the globe, an arduous trek into the wilderness, and with great regret and heavy heart blast some unwary and innocent animal into eternity. Then with coveted trophy in hand they go home to sleep the sleep of the just assuring themselves they helped save a species.
The only trophy hunter who got anywhere near what he deserved was dentist Walter Palmer, the infamous killer of Cecil, who was shamed in many on-line sites. After hiding out for a few months he could return to work, to cruising around Minneapolis in his expensive car, and to his old hunting addiction.
One of the thoughts I had when reading this great post was, At what point should hunting diminishing species be stopped? In this world of increasing billionaires, no amount of money is too much to impede some hunting if it is allowed. In fact, the more rare the species and the more expensive the license, the more prestigious the trophy becomes.
The question now is not whether a species is to be viewed as a resource, but who is going to reap the most benefit and how.
With the increasing human population, habitat is in danger. Local populations want the land for farming or pasture, for logging or other resource extraction, or for hunting. If land is set aside for the animals alone, it often leads to resentment within the local population, along with continued poaching and hunting for food, in spite of laws.
The answer is often to make the animals a paying resource, either by hunting, if the animals bring in big license fees, or ecotourism, if the animals are rare enough to attract viewers. Theoretically, the money benefits the people and cuts down on the need for poaching or other land use.
The problems are that local leaders are not always honest, and big hunting fees do not go where they should. If the ecotourism does not attract a few big payers and needs to depend on lower fees and many viewers, then the environment can become degraded and the animals become too accustomed to human beings.
One of the last resorts is the zoo. But we saw what happened to Marius, the giraffe in Denmark who was killed and publically cut up for lion food, and Harambe, the gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo, who was gunned down because a child was able to propel himself into his enclosure. Endangered animals in zoos are bred to maintain the species, but if they do not have the right genetic profile, as Marius did not, or there are more born than are needed, they can end up in canned hunt farms or other undesirable and substandard places.
So this beautiful little goat’s life was taken, and his killer got the trophy and the bragging rights. Unfortunately, we have not discovered a way to save the endangered animals of the world in a way that leaves them alone to their lands and their lifestyles. It all comes down to how we can squeeze out some manner of survival for them on a planet with climate change, increasing human population, increasing human demands, and the vagaries of human control.
This sad story is being enacted in some way throughout the planet: from the Pamir Mountains, to the circumpolar arctic, to the wilderness areas of Alaska and Canada, and to all the rain forests, where some species have already been driven to extinction.
(All petitions signed and shared.)
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Perfectly summed up, thank you. I value your comments greatly – you expertly put the topic into context, and round out any lacunae in the original post. Yes, sadly zoos make a poor last resort for endangered species where it is virtually impossible to replicate their natural environment or give them the space they need. Very few reintroduction programs are in place, and of those there are, their success is doubtful. The zoo has a conflict of interest between good conservation and maintaining high visitor numbers, and nothing attracts visitors better than baby animals. Surplus animals are swapped between zoos – if they are lucky. Or, as you say, end up in canned hunting farms or even miserable roadside zoos. It’s hard to know what is the answer – except for a drastic curtailment of the ever-rising human population.
Sounds like this psychiatrist needs a shrink himself. What a load of bullshit he spews. And I suppose serial killers of humans deserve our sympathy and respect because of the good they do in reducing the surplus human population. Or maybe because of their deep, conflicted emotions while snuffing out the life of someone who never asked to die. I guess money buys his way out of any guilt or accountability. Just SMH.
And the so-called ‘wildlife journalist’ swallowed it all and regurgitates it. I like your comparison Pam – that really underlines the absurdity of it. When something is wrong in itself, the end does not justify the means, does it.
Reblogged this on The Nomadic Vegan and commented:
I’ve just spent an amazing four days in Kruger National Park in South Africa.
I came face-to-face with dozens of animal species, from lions to giraffes to mongeese. It was an experience that I will never forget.
My interactions with these animals were bittersweet, though, because I knew that they may very well be killed by hunters the next day.
Yes, they are protected inside the park, but hunters can shoot them with impunity in the adjacent private reserves.
And there are no fences between the national park and the private reserves, which means that animals frequently cross into the danger zone unawares.
I have much to share with you about my safari experience in South Africa. Unfortunately, the shaky Internet connection here is making it difficult for me to even check email, let alone upload a video or blog post.
So in the meantime, I am reblogging this thought-provoking article from Animalista Untamed.
In it, she explains why promoting hunting as a method of conservation is never justifiable.