The wildlife department in the country’s northernmost territory has auctioned hunting permits for Astor Markhors at record prices under the trophy scheme. Reports in local media said authorities have auctioned off a permit for trophy hunting of markhor, a wild goat that is native to high-altitude monsoon forests in central Asia, for more than Rs 37 million.
Hunting permits are issued annually for various areas, including Gilgit-Baltistan, Tooshi Conservancy in Chitral District, Gehrait Conservancy in Chitral District and Kaigah Conservancy in Kohistan District.
This year, the highest bid received for the associated species of Astor markhor was $167,525.
The concept of trophy hunting has produced positive results as the markhor population has increased from 1,500-2,000 in 2001 to 3,500-4,000 in 2021.
Under the trophy hunting program, local communities receive 80% of the licence fee and the government keeps the rest. The amount varies as licences are issued through a bidding process.
Under the trophy hunting program, only old and male markhors are shot. Such animals can be identified from their horns, gait and body structure. This program is now cited as a huge success in biodiversity preservation in Pakistan.
The incentives created through the trophy hunting program have introduced new ethical standards among the concerned communities that now protect their wild game species as an economic asset.
Markhor, the national animal of Pakistan, is protected by local and international laws such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has declared the markhor (mountain goat) an endangered species in view of its dwindling population in Pakistan. The strategy adopted by the government to save the species from extinction paid dividends, as the number of the animal in Chitral National Park which had declined to an alarmingly low level in 2004 increased to 2,868 — a record high — in 2019. However, as a result of mismanagement on the part of the government, the number of the endangered species has now dropped significantly. This situation is reportedly being attributed mainly to poaching. Lately, salaries of staffers of the wildlife department have reportedly become irregular and this is driving them to allow illegal hunting of markhors. Some members of local communities are also said to be involved in the racket.
The government introduced a hunting trophy scheme to prevent poaching of markhors in CNP. Foreigners are allowed to hunt the animal for hefty fees. This brought more than one million dollars to the government every year, and also created a sense of involvement in local communities, so they helped with anti-poaching efforts of the government. Eighty per cent of the income went to local communities and the rest 20% to the government. The 80% income generated through the hunting trophy scheme went to fund the setting up of handcrafts centres and to create other job opportunities in villages. The government also carried out welfare schemes in rural areas using this revenue.
Markhors are killed for their meat and for their use in preparing traditional medicines. They are hunted for food as one markhor gives around 110 kg meat and their skin fetches handsome prices. The animal’s long horns, which grow to 65 inches, are also valued. The government should revive its efforts to motivate the wildlife department staff and local communities for preservation of the threatened species. Besides the animal’s economic utility, protection of markhor is necessary to maintain biodiversity.