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A Talk on the Wild Side.

How Sport-Hunting Programs are Helping to Conserve Argali Sheep

one argali   Photo by Conrad Savy / Creative Commons License

In the United States, hunting has long been an important cultural and recreational activity that generates critical funds for conservation of wildlife. Sport-hunting programs in other parts of the world have also shown positive returns, even for some endangered and threatened species. American hunters make up the largest proportion of international hunters, placing our nation in a key role to support science-based, well-managed hunting programs abroad.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through its International Affairs Program, issues permits for American sport hunters to import trophies from species when the available information shows that the hunting programs offer positive impacts on or a benefit to conservation of the species. The Service has found that well-managed hunting programs with science-based quotas not only provide benefits for the species themselves but also can provide economic benefits and incentives for landowners and local communities to conserve habitat and species.

Well-managed and regulated sport-hunting programs provide conservation benefits for species like elephants, black rhinos and lions, and in Central Asia, the example provided by argali sheep showcases how these programs can be effective.

   Argali foraging Argali foraging. Photo by David Blank / Creative Commons License

Argali are the largest species of wild sheep worldwide. Living primarily in herds, they tend to live at high elevations and are found in mountain ranges throughout Central Asian countries. Given their large size, adults eat large quantities of grasses, herbs and small flowering plants.

The increasing presence of domesticated sheep and other livestock in their habitat has played a significant role in reducing the lands available to argali, and that, combined with their food requirements, has led to some livestock owners viewing them as direct competitors for grazing. This conflict can lead to retaliatory poaching of argali. Their meat and fur are also valuable resources. In the absence of well-managed hunting programs, over time, these factors as well as disease outbreaks contributed to the decline of argali populations. While a diverse and varied array of conservation solutions are needed for each locality, ranging from protecting argali habitat to increased research about the status of their populations, well-managed sport-hunting programs have shown that they can be a positive force in supporting argali conservation efforts.

In Mongolia, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan, where argali are listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has allowed for the importation of sport-hunted trophies when the hunting program provided conservation benefits to the species as a whole. In these three countries, sport-hunting programs have been created that generate significant funds for conservation, such as through the purchase of hunting permits and other hunting-related activities, while using science-based quotas to ensure the sustainability of hunting.

In Tajikistan, the argali population is estimated at approximately 25,000 sheep. Through science-based management programs, a conservative quota for the 2017-2018 hunting season was set at 85 adult male argali, representing approximately 1 percent of the estimated population of adult males. Studies indicate that this amount of hunting will minimally impact the species population and that the number of argali in Tajikistan remains stable. In accordance with Tajikistan’s Environmental Protection Law, the funds generated by sport-hunting programs are distributed to national, regional and local conservation funds, with 60 percent going to local conservation funds.  Some of these funds go directly to supporting argali population surveys and conservation efforts.

In the years 2016-2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued permits to 48 American hunters to import argali trophies from Tajikistan. A similar number of Americans also applied for import permits for argali taken in Mongolia and the Kyrgyz Republic. While each country and a variety of conservation partners are helping to conserve argali, Americans, through their participation in well-managed, science-based hunting programs are playing an important role in helping conserve argali in these countries. For additional information about sport-hunted trophies, please visit the Service’s international sport-hunted trophies page.

This is the biggest misuse of power and "science"! Killing endangered animals doesn't help restore their numbers, but true conservation initiatives like securing additional land and critical corridors are what science has proven to work over the years. It is appalling that our country, which should be a leader in international conservation efforts, would propose hunting deregulation and importation of hunted goods as a possible solution to "saving" species, endangered or otherwise. As a conservation biologist I am outraged at the action of the US Fish and Wildlife "Conservation" Commission! We need to initiate efforts that facilitate real conservation and real science.
# Posted By Tina McIntyre | 11/18/17 6:51 AM

The Western Conservation Model WORKS, and this article demonstrates how. Funded by hunters' dollars, species like wild sheep have been protected, and in some cases successfully translocated to new or historical ranges. Without hunters' dollars -primarily North American hunter- species like the Argali would be would not be valued as highly and fall prey to local poachers or simply be shot by local sheep/goat herders who see the wildlife as competition for forage.
In North America, there are plenty of good examples: The Wood Duck, The Rocky Mountain Elk and the Bighorn Sheep all have had huge come-backs because of hunters, hunter organizations, fees/taxes on sporting goods, firearms and amunition, and on scientifically based game management practices.
# Posted By Geoff Wooding | 5/9/18 8:59 AM

In reading the comments I must ask how on earth can anyone claiming to be a biologist not understand that proper game management, where only a very small proportion of Males are harvested- in this article they were very specific, stating less than 1% of males and zero females- is scientifically valid and does nothing to threaten the species. It's absurd and ignorant to think that game species are saved through eliminating harvests, as that eliminates the financial benefits generated by hunting.
# Posted By Geoff Wooding | 5/9/18 4:23 PM
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