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Return of the Markhor


Tajikistan: New Scientific Data on Markhor and a Conservation Success Story
August 2017

By Rolf D. Baldus

This is a true conservation success. As Hunting Report correspondent Dr. Rolf Baldus tells us, the markhor was listed as "endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) from 1994 until 2015. Hunting was closed until 2011, although we have heard of some limited permits issued by the president's office over the years. Now markhor hunting is legal on a very small, controlled quota, with CITES authorities issuing export permits for these trophies. As a result, the population of markhor in Tajikistan has grown substantially. Here's the latest.

The Republic of Tajikistan is the most important range state of the subspecies Heptner (aka Bukharan or Tajik) markhor, Capra falconeri heptneri. Local communities are the key players in this conservation success story. The revenues from hunting tourism are the engine that has been driving the process.

This positive development has been recognized widely in the international conservation community, especially the work of the local communities in the Darvaz and Shamsiddin Shohin districts in collaboration with Tajikistan's Committee on Environmental Protection. The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) honored the communities in 2014 with its prestigious Markhor Award. In May 2017, the German Ministry for Environment mentioned Tajikistan as a good example of conservation hunting when it rejected demands by antihunting NGOs that Germany ban hunting trophies.

Markhor on the Rebound

As the Soviet Union collapsed with the resulting economic crisis and civil war, markhor were killed for food. Illegal trophy hunting was common. The population fell to less than 350 animals. The population remained low until around 2008 when the German government started a conservation project that specifically included rural communities. Opinion leaders in the villages and former subsistence hunters and poachers recognized the potential value of markhor. Markhor conservation and hunting in the Torghar Hills of Pakistan served as an example of what could be done. They decided to protect the animals on village and private land in expectation of a hunting quota once numbers allowed a sustainable offtake. This led to a population recovery. In 2012 a minimum of 1,000 animals were counted, with 1,300 in 2014 and 1,450 in 2016.

To assess the present population of markhor in Tajikistan, the Committee on Environmental Protection and the Academy of Sciences organized a range-wide survey, which took place from Feb. 13 to March 6, 2017. IUCN's Caprinae Specialist Group was invited to participate in the survey as an impartial science-based international observer. The North American Wild Sheep Foundation and the NGO Panthera also joined the survey as independent observers.

The final analysis results show an overall number of 1,901 markhor observed in a 552-square-kilometer survey area. Adult males, including 81 trophy-age males eight years or older, made up 18% of the population. The highest number of markhor were counted in the Saidi Tagnob conservancy (738 markhor; 38.8% of the population). The highest number of adult males counted was in M-Sayod conservancy, with 137 adult males, including 45 trophy-age males.

The population density in the surveyed areas ranges from 0.8 markhor per square kilometer in the strictly protected area of Dashtijum to 6.6 markhor per square kilometer in M-Sayod conservancy. The overall average density for all surveyed areas is 3.4 markhor per square kilometer.

These results will be used to determine and allocate quotas for trophy hunting in 2017 and 2018 and for CITES CoP quotas for the next five years.

Limiting Factors

The survey results suggest that different factors limit further growth of the markhor population. Key factors seem to be habitat quality and poaching pressure. In some areas, the population density may be close to the carrying capacity of the habitat. In other areas competition with livestock hinders further growth of the markhor population. It also increases the risk of disease transmission; 64 markhor died in 2010 of Mycoplasma pneumonia. Domestic goats were the probable source of the infection. Poaching is also a problem in some parts of the markhor range and may limit expansion.

Sustainable Hunting to the Rescue

The authors of the survey also assessed the effects of hunting tourism, which was introduced in 2011 over many objections. The first hunt (two markhor) was conducted in 2012. This community-based trophy hunting has proven to be a significant tool in the conservation of the species, since old markhor males are highly valuable. The greatest share of the revenues (more than €100,000 per trophy) remains with the communities and family-based enterprises, provided the hunt is booked either through the Hunting and Conservation Alliance of Tajikistan (H&CAT) or directly with the owners of conservancies. H&CAT ( info@tajwildlife.com) was created in 2016 to represent conservancies and family hunting enterprises. The process was supported by CIC Germany.

H&CAT does not charge any commissions but supports local conservancies with paperwork and all needed logistics to ensure that all goes well and hunts are not detrimental for the markhor population.

The scientists write: "The results of the survey confirm that regulated trophy hunting of markhor in the survey areas since 2014 has not had any negative impact on the markhor population size. Current numbers and population structure show that, in the areas for which the Academy of Sciences had recommended the allocation of quotas during the hunting season, 2016-2017 numbers indicate the hunts not only did not have any detrimental influence on the conservation of the species, but actually were highly supportive to active conservation management. This concerns the conservancies of LLC M-Sayod, LLC Saidi Tagnob and LLC Morkhur.

"Talks with rangers and local community members and observations in the respective villages suggest that these entities invest substantial income earned from the hunts into conservation activities like antipoaching, continuous surveillance of their areas and the wildlife, and community development and support (pipes and tanks for clean drinking water, the expansion of streets, scholarships for students, farming equipment, etc.)."

On the other hand, trophy hunting without clear conservation investment and use of income for the benefit of local communities may not have any positive effects. If local villages don't capture most of the income, there's a high risk that local people, feeling disenfranchised, will not support protection from poaching and habitat conservation. They may even start poaching themselves.

The scientists did not find any information about community support and benefit sharing in the companies LLC Safari Dashtijum, NGO Muhofiz and LLC Bars. People living in villages surrounding these conservancies do not receive any benefit from or incentive for protecting markhor.

Survey results suggest that population numbers and trends in LLC Safari Dashtijum and NGO Muhofiz remain far below their potential. This is a clear sign of the lack of effective conservation. The scientists were told by locals that non-sustainable hunts may have occurred in these areas, a charge that may result in additional investigation.

It also cannot be ruled out that a small number of markhor are being taken illegally and these trophies are being smuggled out of the country. This type of poaching has seemingly been reduced since the introduction of regulated legal hunting, with rural communities now more aware of the value of legally hunted markhor. If legal hunting were terminated, the illegal offtake would quickly reverse the current growth trend of the markhor population.

Source: Hunting Report (USA)

Tajikistan Mountain Ungulate Project


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Markhor Tadschikistan
Quelle: Jagdzeit International


Baldus 1 JI24.pdf
(2260 KB)

Markhor Tajikistan
Source: Hunter's Path


HP 12 Baldus 2.pdf
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Hunting and Conservation Alliance of Tajikistan:


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