Examining the effectiveness of hunting quotas for rare animals

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A few weeks ago, a foreigner posted several photos of his hunt for argali (wild sheep) in Mongolia on Instagram. At that time, netizens began to bombard the internet with comments along the lines of: “Foreigners are illegally hunting argali in our country. Every year, foreigners freely come and go but they hunt endangered animals. We want control over this situation.”

In fact, there is a policy and regulation on hunting, but it is not clear how it is controlled or how the revenue is used. Also, experts say that quotas for special purpose hunting are not set correctly.

In connection with the public outrage, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism clarified, “Every year the government discusses hunting. Hunting is permitted from July 15 to October 1. Special hunting permits are issued to foreigners. Foreigners pay a fee to the local budget to hunt.”

When issuing this permit, authorities take into account whether the number of game animals has increased compared to the previous year. The ministry explains that the quota is set for only a very small percentage of the game reserve. But no one knows if this is actually true. This is because our country has a strange system for issuing hunting permits, even though it cannot fully estimate the number of game animals.

In general, the number of animals to be hunted and caught for special purposes is determined every year in order to generate a certain percentage of the national budget income from natural resources. For instance, in accordance with the government order of April 29, up to 98 argali, 130 ibex, 60 red deer, 30 roe deer, 300 gazelles, 200 game birds and 20 gray wolves can be hunted for special purposes this year.

Argali and ibex are among the most “desired” game for hunters. In particular, the fee for hunting wild sheep is relatively higher than for other animals at 24,000 USD to be precise. In fact, in accordance with the law, 50 percent of the hunting fee will be used to protect wildlife. However, instead of implementing this law and protecting and breeding animals, our country cannot even determine how many game animals it has.

According to Specialist in charge of Animal Resources, Use and Protection of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism B.Nomin-Erdene, tenders for research work were announced to determine the reserves of argali and ibex in 2019. The ministry decided to conduct a comprehensive study of Mongolia back then. The last national survey on the total population of argali and ibex that can be hunted was conducted in 2009. So far, the results of the research have not been released. In other words, it’s still unclear how many wild sheep and ibex are in the country.

Basically, the process of determining and issuing quotas for special purpose hunting, especially high-priced argali hunting, is “flawed”. Researchers pointed out that this is the reason for the decrease in the number of animals and the shrinking of their range.

Doctor of Biology, Associate Professor S.Amgalanbaatar explained, “When determining how many wild animals can be hunted, it is necessary to consider their reserve. Different methods are used for each species to determine their reserve. For example, 5 to 10 percent of the total reserves of gazelles and marmots can be hunted for meat. In the case of special purpose hunting, there is a need to determine the hunting reserve, not the total, because only mature ones with big horns should be hunted.”

“The Law on Fauna stipulates that there are two categories: biological and game reserves. Biological reserves are the total population of animals. Game reserve means location and range for animals that are designated to sustainably use and protect hunting resources. Game reserve, for instance, is defined as the number of wild sheep with big horns over eight years of age. But there are no statistics on the game reserves in our country,” he added.

“Wild sheep are divided into four classes according to their horns or age. Foreign hunters hunt argali of the fourth class. Their horns grow throughout their lives. The older the wild sheep, the bigger the horn. So, in addition to determining how many such sheep there are, it should also be estimated how many of them will be promoted from the third class to the fourth class. On top of that, whether the population is decreasing or not should be taken into account. We must not hunt declining populations. Because livestock are cared for and protected by humans, the young grow up safely. However, 60 to 70 percent of wild animals die before reaching one year of age. Also, hunting reserves should be determined taking into account whether or not there is mining or industrial activity around the animal’s habitat. There are many factors to consider.”

According to the environment ministry, there are about 170 hunting areas in 19 provinces. The law states that hunting quotas are issued based on the study of the animals in the respective hunting area and the assessment of their reproductive capacity and resources. However, as mentioned above, the process of issuing special purpose hunting permits is erroneous due to the lack of sufficient research conducted in the hunting areas and the lack of complete identification of resources. Particularly, several years ago, a proposal was made to establish hunting areas in the areas of Delgerkhaan soum of Sukhbaatar Province, Bayankhutag and Murun soums of Khentii Province and Dashinchilen soum of Bulgan Province, where there are no animal reserves or where wild animals are just beginning to inhabit.

The reserve of animals that can be hunted is determined by a professional organization. A professional organization is a legal entity with a game scientist and game biologist. However, because these organizations do not do their job properly, government organizations give quotas in areas that do not have hunting resources.

There are around 20 hunting companies nationwide. Director of Aji Crystal Hunting Company Kh.Zorigt said, “The government is issuing an order to hunt five to six argali in a place where there is only one argali hunting reserve per year. Such decisions are made based on the biological reserve. Biological or total resources may appear reasonable. However, in reality, there are few mature animals that meet the requirements. So hunters go to other places in search of old ones. The main problem is that there is no system to control the approval of unreserved areas as reserves when developing hunting management plans.”

“The ministry does not control this issue. Because they establish reserves in areas where there are no game animals, companies hunt in unauthorized areas, not in hunting areas. In 2017, amendments were made to the working regulations on the professional organization of hunting, approved by Government Resolution No. 93 of 2013. According to this, if a company cannot hunt argali or ibex according to the quota it received, it will not be able to get another quota the following year and will be excluded. So, in order to get a quota the following year, companies will ponder about where and how they should hunt. Such policy documents of the government have pushed the companies into a situation where they have no choice but to break the law. In order to solve this problem, it is necessary to conduct monitoring in all hunting areas and correctly determine whether there are reserves,” he explained.

In 2018, a working group consisting of scientists, officials and representatives of enterprises was established under the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to resolve these issues. The working group reviewed hunting organization reports and conducted research. However, many of the documents did not meet the requirements. More specifically, when locals were asked about the research work, they said, “The people who conducted the research did not leave the center of soum. They didn’t go to wildlife reserves.” Even though the working group made a decision to hold those who committed such violations accountable, it has not been implemented yet.

The problems associated with special purpose hunting are not limited to the above. It is necessary to reform its regulation, organization and control as a whole. CEO of the Mongolian Environment Civil Council Dr. B.Erdenee emphasized that even the period of hunting wild animals should be revised. She said, “Article 9 of the Law on Fauna, which was revised in 2012, provides for the period for hunting animals. There is no scientific basis for the period specified in the law.”

In specific, while most countries start deer hunting in mid-September, in our country, the law allows them to be hunted from June 30 when the blood antlers grow. Also, the law stipulates that argali and ibex can be hunted when they have not shed their wool and have not taken fat. In countries with a climate similar to ours, such as the US, Canada, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, argali and ibex are hunted from July to December, and in some places from January to February. However, we are allowed to hunt from July 1 to October 1. Therefore, it is necessary to change the hunting period in accordance with world standards and scientific basis. There is also a need to classify them for each purpose as industrial, domestic and special, and re-determine the period, B.Erdenee stressed.

At the national level, the number of argali was calculated in 1975, 1985, 2000, and 2009. Its population was 60,000 in 1985 but in 15 years, it declined to 15,000. Its population has decreased by four times, so it was included in the Red Book of Mongolia according to the criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Research has shown that the number of argali in western provinces has decreased by 46,000. But according to the 2009 census, it had slightly risen to 18,100. However, the number of argali in western provinces is still small. There was an increase of 3,000 only in eastern provinces. Therefore, it is time to consider whether or not argali can be hunted based on the increase in its population.

Last year, Head of the Argali Conservation Foundation Dr. S.Amgalanbaatar made a press conference and raised issues concerning the protection of argali.

He stated, “Mongolians have a long tradition and heritage of hunting. However, in recent times, our traditional heritage and culture have been lost. Wildlife is a renewable resource. However, we must pay more attention to its proper use and protection.”

Civil society organizations are also demanding that the income generated from hunting be spent on animal protection. Chairman of the Control Committee of the Mongolian Environmental Citizens Council J.Ganbaatar said, “Ten percent of the hunting fees for rare animals in the world goes toward the conservation of those animal. The results of the work of civil society organizations aimed at creating this standard are denied. More than 90 heads of argali are allowed to be hunted for commercial purposes, but not even a single tugrug from the hunting fee is spent on wildlife conservation.”

Mongolia lacks a proper system that determines the number of games and quotas based on correct calculations and spends the income from hunting back on animal protection. At least, we need to stop arbitrarily setting quotas for the hunting of endangered animals, not just argali.

Argali (wild sheep)

Misheel Lkhasuren