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The different sub-species of markhor are some of the world’s most sought-after hunting trophies. Until 15 years ago there were very few markhor left in the wild, but the population has grown markedly in those areas of Pakistan that allows a limited number of trophy hunts. At the time of writing, the Pakistani government releases between 12 and 15 licenses for the three native sub-species of markhor. The Washington convention/CITES allows the export and import of these legally shot markhor trophies.
After nearly four decades of running Diana Hunting Tours and Limpopo Travel, which has taken me all over the world, I have experienced just about everything when it comes to hunting and nature conservation. I haven’t counted how many countries we have sent travelling hunters to, nor how many local partners we have worked with, but it must be hundreds. I have followed the development of commercial hunting tourism from the inside, and throughout it has been clear that hunting and nature conservation are two sides of the same coin. The hunting tours of tomorrow rest entirely on today’s efforts towards conservation. I have seen countless examples of conservation schemes that have been successful, and just as many that have failed. Some of these failures have been catastrophic. The more I have seen, the more convinced I have become that effective nature conservation in the realities of today’s world is built upon some of the most basic elements of human nature.
DOES IT PAY?
The markhor is a rare and highly threatened species of mountain goat. It has been estimated that
there are only around 8,000 individuals of this species remaining in the wild, divided into four different subspecies over its scattered range.
In 1998, the Pakistani government decided to sell a limited number of hunting licences each year to the highest-bidding international hunters. This scheme has been a great success. A markhor hunt costs between US $90,000 and US $110,000, and much of this money ends up in the pockets of the local population. The result of this regulated hunting system has been overwhelmingly positive. With the wave of a wand, many districts went from showing at best zero increase in the meagre numbers of this wild goat, to a rise in population of more than 10% per year. In one district the population has increased from 150 to more than 700 animals since 1998. So what happened? Locals directly benefited, and could see the advantages of not hunting the markhor for the few dollars its meat brought in.
Recently, a colleague had a long chat over the Internet with an outfitter in Tajikistan who happened to be sitting in a mountain hut in the middle of a mid-Asian mountain range, close to the border of Afghanistan. About 15 years ago, >