Conservation and Community: Benefits of Trophy Hunting in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Trophy hunting is the practice of hunting wild animals for sport, not for food, where hunters pay high fees to target popular species such as Markhor (Capra falconeri falconeri), Himalayan Ibex (Capra ibex sibirica), Blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), Ladakh Urial (Ovis Vignei), and many more popular species of angulates.

Trophy hunting has been a popular activity among hunters for centuries. It involves selecting wild animals based on their large horns, tusks, or antlers as trophy animals. The hunters keep these body parts as souvenirs; this practice is similar to sport hunting, which has been practiced for a long time in human history. Eighty percent of the revenue generated from trophy hunting is shared with the area’s community, and twenty percent is a government share. That can provide a significant source of income for local communities and incentivize them to protect the wildlife in their area.

The Trophy hunting program was introduced by the region’s administration in the Nagar Valley about three decades ago. Three Decades ago, trophy hunting was completely banned in Pakistan. Although a complete ban on hunting was an excellent initiative for conserving Markhor, this may have some unseen negative impacts on livelihoods and traditions. Such a ban on hunting led to an increase in poaching because angulates are of great significance to the local communities. 

Syed Yahya Shah was an active local politician and religious leader from the Bar Valley, District Nagar of Gilgit-Baltistan. At that time, he saw that the adverse effects of the complete ban on hunting started to increase. Syed Yahya Shah Al Hussaini proposed a community-based trophy-hunting program for his people to reduce these harmful effects. He sought advice from Ghulam Rasool, Divisional Forest Officer, and Shoaib Sultan Khan of AKRSP. The proposal was forwarded to IUCN and WWF-Pakistan, who engaged Ashiq Ahmed Khan to analyze its benefits for the Bar community and ungulate populations.

In 1989, Ashiq Ahmed Khan and a team of experts visited the Bar Valley to evaluate the impact of Syed Yahya Shah’s proposed program. They focused on areas where trophy-sized animals, particularly ibex, were frequently seen near human settlements. After studying the ibex population, Khan determined that an ungulate must be over nine years old with horns larger than 40 inches to be eligible for trophy hunting. In the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, the criteria for trophy hunting of Astor markhor involves selecting male goats with large horns measuring at least 41 inches in length. A male Himalayan Ibex has horns more than 41 inches in length, reaching an age of more than 9 years. Similarly, a male blue sheep, also known as a bharal, reaching an age of at least 8 years and having horns measuring at least 25 inches is considered a trophy size animal. Aside from being a recreational activity, trophy hunting can also benefit the local community as 80% of the revenue generated is shared with the community, providing a significant source of income and incentivizing them to protect the wildlife in their area.

He proposed that the Bar community get special government assistance to open up commercial trophy hunting for wildlife conservation in their area to use the money for conservation and community development. Foreigners will pay a premium to hunt a limited number of Siberian ibex each year in certain areas.

Khan conducted discussions with the local community, focusing on various hunting-related aspects such as the types of animals hunted, reasons for hunting, quantities of meat obtained, and local meat prices. The experts aimed to understand how trophy hunting-based conservation could mitigate human-wildlife conflicts by increasing prey populations, reducing poaching, and fostering community tolerance for predators. Khan’s observations led him to believe that a government-regulated trophy hunting program would provide more equitable benefits to the community, regardless of their involvement in hunting. This approach would also discourage illegal hunting. The generated revenue from trophy hunting would be allocated toward biodiversity conservation and community development initiatives. Khan’s report served as the foundation for the first community-based trophy hunting program in Gilgit-Baltistan, which conservation organizations supported.

Pakistan’s community-based trophy hunting program in Gilgit-Baltistan balances conservation and livelihoods. The initiative has significantly reduced poaching and increased markhor and ibex populations. Over 30% of the land is designated as community conservation areas.

A mutually beneficial trophy-hunting program has been implemented in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Conservation communities are committed to protecting wildlife; in return, they receive 80% of the revenue from legal hunting. These funds are used for regional social development initiatives such as habitat improvement, wildlife protection, education, health care, conservation efforts, and social development. While criticized for management issues, it is hailed as a conservation success. Transparent auditing and private sector involvement can enhance effectiveness and ensure sustainability. 

 When conducted with community involvement, sustainable use of natural resources can serve as a viable long-term livelihood strategy and development tool for rural communities. Trophy hunting has proven an effective wildlife management strategy in various countries, promoting positive attitudes toward wildlife.

Community involvement and conservation achievements. Contrary to popular belief, trophy animals are usually males in their prime reproductive years rather than older males. Trophy hunting helps prevent poaching, and if the funds generated are reinvested in conservation activities, well-managed trophy hunting programs can have a positive impact. The program benefits local communities economically, generating substantial revenue.

The Trophy Hunting Initiative in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) permits the hunting of Markhor, Blue Sheep, and Ibex in Community Managed Conservation Areas, subject to rules and regulations outlined in the Gilgit Baltistan Wildlife Act 1975. Hunting is otherwise prohibited under a general ban by the Pakistani government. Hunting season runs from November 1st to the end of April. December and January are the best months for hunting. Revenue from the initiative benefits both locals and the government department overseeing the program. 

According to the 2022-23 rut season survey conducted by the Department of Forests, Parks, and Wildlife GB, it was suggested that if 2% of the total population sighted during the survey were harvested, approximately 121 Himalayan Ibex, 29 Markhors, and 14 Blue Sheep could be harvested. However, 127 Ibex, 21 Markhor, and 12 Blue Sheep could be harvested in the entire Gilgit-Baltistan area if 25% of the trophy-size animals were selected. 

The government of Gilgit-Baltistan issued licenses for 68 Ibex, 11 Blue Sheep, and 4 Markhor in the year 2023, which is less than the rate at which their population is growing. This year, the Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan has promised to increase the number of licenses from 4 to more than 15. It is hoped that more licenses will be given this year, which will further stabilize the economy of Gilgit-Baltistan.

In 2023, about 21 crore 75 lakhs income was generated from trophy hunting programs, of which 80% was shared with the communities, and the remaining 20% ​​was received by the government, which will be spent on conservation and wildlife management activities. The government is taking many more positive steps to increase its contribution further.

The government of Gilgit-Baltistan proposed the First Ladakh Urial Trophy Program to the cities to fix a quota for trophy hunting to increase the community’s commitment to its conservation. Along with this, the Gilgit-Baltistan government has also considered green hunting of Leopold this year, by which the animal will be sedated only with a dot gun and released after taking photographs, etc. This initiative is a positive step towards stabilizing the economy while protecting wildlife.

Community-based trophy-hunting initiatives in Pakistan have successfully promoted the sustainable use of natural resources while benefiting the community. Trophy hunting programs have also been successful in preventing poaching over time. Although criticized for management issues, this approach is hailed as a success.

Transparent management and private sector involvement can improve the effectiveness and sustainability of community-based initiatives. Conservationists must pay attention to the livelihoods of the local people and ensure that the program’s benefits are shared equitably.

S Asad Ali Shah Rizvi Student of Forestry, Range and Wildlife Management KIU Gilgit,

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