ASTANA – Huge, sparsely populated, with sprawling wilderness areas, Kazakhstan seems brimming with potential as a hunting destination, especially given its own hunting traditions (and the population’s abiding love of meat). However, wildlife management and the hunting industry have so far failed to develop. A joint project launched by Kazakhstan and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) aims to change that.
The Wildlife Project (officially entitled “Improving national policy on natural resources management, monitoring, conservation and sustainable use in the context of Kazakhstan’s transition to the green economy”) is financed by the government and the UN Development Programme. Kazakhstan has contributed $406,418 to the project, the UNDP $124,000.
It aims to improve policies and legislation on wildlife management in Kazakhstan, based on targets from the country’s Green Economy Strategy, a UNDP report on the project stated. The project also trains personnel from pilot hunting farms to plan and make decisions that honour conservation and principles of sustainability.
According to the UNDP report, more than 13 million hunters spend over $20 billion per year on the activity in the U.S, while in Canada, 1.2 million hunters bring $720 million to the budget and the hunting sector, while in Kazakhstan the total number of hunters is barely 130,000 people. There are more than 119.8 million hectares of potential hunting land in the country, most of it barely managed.
Kazakhstan’s approach to wildlife management is somewhat different to most other countries, says Kent Jingfors, a Canadian wildlife management expert who visited the project in January of this year as an advisor.
“In most countries, wildlife is considered public property and the state takes responsibility (control) of the monitoring, protection and use of wildlife resources,” Jingfors told The Astana Times on April 30. “In Kazakhstan, the state has delegated responsibility for the monitoring and protection of wildlife in almost half the country to privately operated Hunting Concessions (HCs) that, in return, are given the exclusive right to provide services for hunters.” The government still sets annual quotas for the HCs and collects fees and taxes from them, he said.
Given that federal and local agencies lack the resources to monitor and protect wildlife in the huge country, delegating the costs of hiring rangers, conducting wildlife surveys and developing hunting infrastructure, to name a few, would seem to make sense, he explained. Kazakhstan’s government does monitor and protect a few rare species and a few protected areas, he commented, though poaching remains a serious problem. However, Jingfors says, very few of Kazakhstan’s more than 680 HCs are economically viable now.
The UNDP project report notes a range of outstanding issues hindering the development of wildlife management capacities. “For instance, the current system of using hunting resources does not fully take into account the current requirements related to wildlife protection, restoration and use because of gaps in legal and economic mechanisms in the current context of wildlife management. Private hunting farms are found to be unprofitable, without any return on investments,” the report said.
Therefore, attracting resources to the hunting sector is crucial. “To implement [the project’s] reforms it is necessary to attract a flow of capital to the hunting sector. An important element of reforms will be amendments and addenda to legislation that would significantly simplify doing business and encourage entrepreneurs to protect and rehabilitate wildlife,” Project Manager Talgat Kerteshev said, according to the UNDP.
With low population densities, large areas with the potential to be wildlife habitats, a diversity of landscapes, large seasonal fluctuations and considerable local knowledge of traditional hunting and wildlife in rural areas, wildlife management and hunting tourism could develop well here, Jingfors said.
Hunting tourism – defined as international hunters seeking trophy animals – is high value and low impact when managed properly, Jingfors said, and can have considerable conservation value. “Once local communities recognise the potential value of a trophy animal, they tend to be more interested in the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat to make sure future hunting opportunities are secured. The HCs are largely locally based, using local rangers and local services, so I believe the benefits from hunting are largely ‘local.’ Since mostly older, trophy-sized individuals are removed, there is usually limited impact on the local wildlife populations (particularly if poaching is eliminated).”
Kazakhstan’s potential for hunting tourism is enhanced by the presence of some species that are attractive to international hunters, he said, in particular maral, ibex and roe deer, Jingfors said.
“An international hunter paying good money expects a good hunt that is well organised, with minimal disruptions and rich on cultural experiences. Hunting success is important but not necessarily a pre-requisite as long as the experience was ‘good.’ Kazakhstan is definitely attractive from a cultural experience point of view; however, the number of trophy species is currently limited,” Jingfors said.
And in addition to international hunters, he also thinks there’s a domestic urban population that could be drawn to new hunting opportunities.
Jingfors made 20 recommendations on governance, monitoring, hunting management and enforcement, hunting tourism and enhancing the economic viability of HCs on his trip. These start with recognising wildlife and biodiversity as an important national asset and an integral part of the country’s Green Development Strategy. This will require revising the government’s biodiversity strategy and action plan and adopting legislation that prioritises hunting and wildlife production over other land activities in some cases.
To support Kazakhstan’s HCs, he suggested simplifying some of their management requirements, including eliminating unnecessary and impractical accounting of game species and changing the way quotas are set. HCs should be given incentives for protecting their wildlife, perhaps by returning fees taken from poachers to the HCs (rather than to the government) to further develop their rangers, Jingfors suggested. The government should also look for ways to reduce HCs’ costs, perhaps by reducing taxes and fees and by promoting tourism.
Rangers should also be included in regional government inspection programmes, to create connections between enforcement bodies. Administrative procedures regarding firearms import permits, trophy export permits and other hunting regulations should be streamlined to encourage tourists. And, finally, Jingfors thinks Kazakhstan should launch an experimental trophy hunting programme on argali, a trophy prized by international hunters, “to demonstrate the conservation benefits of a limited and well-regulated hunt of a rare species. Legal hunting of argali has been suspended since 2002, yet poaching continues, with no benefits to conservation whatsoever,” he pointed out.