Wildlife and tourism in Tajikistan

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About the project

  “There are great quantities of wild sheep of huge size. Their horns grow to as much as six palms in length.” Marco Polo (1273)

Marco Polo, the legendary Venetian 13th century traveler, apparently never saw Marco Polo sheep Ovis ammon polii alive, but he was the first who mentioned the length of the horns he saw in the Pamirs, the longest of any subspecies of argali sheep. That time it roamed in incredible large herds on the green pastures at the wide mountain valleys of the Roof of the World, the High Pamirs. Herders in absence of wood at the altitudes beyond 4000 m a.s.l. used the huge curled horns of this wild sheep for building corrals for their livestock – yaks, sheep and goats.

Nowadays, still herds of up to several hundred of the magnificent sheep roam in the high mountain plateaus of the Eastern Pamirs. But Tajikistan’s wildlife is under pressure and Marco Polo sheep as well as other animals already disappeared from large areas formerly inhabited.

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The Tajikistan Mountain Ungulates Project has assisted local people in the development of sustainable wildlife management in conservancy areas, which are legally assigned as hunting grounds or wildlife management areas to legal entities - community-based non-governmental, non-profit organizations (NGOs) and small family-run enterprises established in the local villages. Since its start in 2008 the project has achieved incredible success in rehabiliting the populations of Tajikistan's mountain ungulates, the conservation of their ecosystems and associated other species, like snow leopard and other carnivores, and the development of benefits for the local communities. The International Council for Game and Widlife Conservation (CIC) in 2014 at the Conferene of the Parties of the Convention on Biodiversity honored the success achieved so far with its prestigious "Markhor Award". 

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The community-based wildlife management organizations have formed the Hunting and Conservation Alliance of Tajikistan (HCAT) for cooperation and coordination of their efforts and for assisting in marketing of tourism and sustainable hunting offers in the conservancy areas.

Tajikistan is a country with very diverse landscape rich in species and ecosystems. Less than one hundred years ago Turan tigers in the gallery forests along the large rivers were still stalking numerous wild boar and Bukhara red deer. The last Turan tiger was killed in the 1950s. Bukhara deer subsist only in few fragmented forest parcels. The mountain ranges of Tajikistan are home for several Caprinae species like the above mentioned Marco Polo sheep, the urial sheep, the screw horned goat or markhor and the ibex. These wild sheep and goat once have been abundant and widespread as petroglyphes (rock drawings), historical travel narratives and even recent reports suggest. Nowadays even the Asiatic ibex - still the most widespread species - is missing from large mountain areas of its former home range and may even be difficult to observe inside protected areas. The other Capra species, the markhor, subsists only in fragmented small populations. The urial is in most parts of its former area under acute threat of extinction. The key reason for the fast shrinking of areas and population numbers of the ungulates is unsustainable and illegal hunting, in some cases accompanied by competition of livestock for grazing and cutting of shrubs for fuel wood.

At the same time experience from various parts of the world shows that where private or community based conservancies protect wildlife and can earn income from regulated hunting wildlife populations can be rehabilitated and conserved. In Tajikistan so far only few private game management areas are already working in this direction and use funds from trophy hunting for protection of the species and habitats of their areas.

The focus of our project is on the four mountain ungulate species found in Tajikistan – ibex, markhor, urial and argali sheep, in the context of the ecosystems inhabited by them and the socio-economic context. The project supports the development of sustainable management systems by local private organizations and local community based NGOs in conserrvancy areas. Incomes created from wildlife through “eco”-tourism and sustainable hunting, both by hunting tourists and local people, are became strong incentives for the protection, rehabilitation and sustainable use of the ungulate populations and the conservation of the habitats they rely on.

The project as well supports the development of an enabling political and legal framework. Further it works on the enhancement of the information available on the numbers, conditions and trends of the target species’ populations by conducting surveys in the model areas and in other key habitats of mountain ungulates.

The project started in April 2008 and has achieved some promising results:


The Mountain Ungulates Project in Tajikistan has been supported by: