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29 August 2019

How to Bring Trophy Hunters Back to Kamchatka

For those who are not aware of it, the hunting lands in Russia cover over 1,710 million hectares. Hunting, both commercial and recreational trophy hunting, can take place in developed areas as well as on remote hunting lands. The latter include «backwoods» with negligible human population and accessible only by helicopter. Such areas in our country comprise over 60% of all land. One such place is Kamchatka. One cannot imagine the peninsula without volcanoes, hot springs, salmon runs, and, of course, the Kamchatka brown bears, the East Siberian moose, and the snow sheep. They became the first hunting trophies for the first foreign hunters who came to Kamchatka all the way back in the 1990s. Starting in last decade of the 20th century, foreigners were allowed to visit the region and by August our travel agency in Penzhin District of Koryak Autonomous Area (back then there were Kamchatka Region and Kamchatka District) built the first snow sheep hunting camp on the upper Enychavayam River.



At the turn of the 1990s, in a fairly short time, many foreign hunting travel agencies opened their offices in Russia. Some came to Kamchatka. People launched their businesses and began to expand them to the western markets. All these companies were governed by the then-current hunting laws and conducted business on the basis of existing regulations for use of natural resources. They worked by cooperating with local Kamchatka hunting establishments and built up trust and partnership with them over the years. The cooperation was based on long-term contracts, where foreign outfitters acted as investors.




All went well; it was quite simple and easy to work, but in 2005 the well-tuned system faltered. Mikhail Mashkovtsev, the governor of Kamchatka at the time, dealt a decisive blow at the growing hunting and fishing tourism. Moreover, the initiative was only announced after many foreign hunters were already brought to the hunting camps. The situation turned into an emergency. The hunters who came to Kamchatka under properly signed agreements could not hunt. Right away, foreign agents and hunters demanded that hunting providers refund the money and cancel all agreements for the upcoming fall hunt because the confidence of foreign clients both in Kamchatka and in Russia broke down. However, no one paid attention to the expert community, even though the specialists warned that unfounded cancellation of the brown bear hunting will lead to unemployment for those involved in trophy hunting in Kamchatka and, as a result, large-scale poaching, as well as, most likely, will cause social unrest among the region’s population. That is exactly what happened. Using snowmobiles, the poachers indiscriminately killed all bears, taking only gall bladders and paws of the animals for subsequent sale in China. According to expert estimates, hundreds of bears were illegally killed all over Kamchatka in 2005. This was the beginning of the decline of hunting tourism in Russia.


Hunting is not just a hobby but also a very lucrative business



Let me say a few words about the factors that prevent the growth of hunting tourism when incompetent decisions have been rescinded long ago and the population of the brown bear keeps growing from one year to the next. First of all, it is the prices. For example, renting a helicopter today costs 250–280 thousand roubles for a one-hour flight on a Mi-8. There is not much you can do without a helicopter in the vast expanses of Kamchatka, but few foreign hunters want to rent a helicopter at that price. The price of snowmobile fuel in Palana, for example, can reach 100 roubles per litre. Taking tourists to a hunting camp becomes prohibitively expensive. If fuel prices rise, the prices of everything else go up automatically, starting with groceries and all the way to the fees charged by guides, cooks, and taxidermists (after all, the trophy needs to be preserved and delivered to the hunter’s country of residence). All in all, the cost of a brown bear hunting tour in Kamchatka reaches up to USD 10 thousand per person for six days of hunting. And, you still need to get there. The Moscow — Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky ticket costs 70 thousand roubles per person, one-way. Not very foreigner can afford that. The cost of a tour for a Kamchatka moose is even higher: up to USD 15 thousand per person, and for the snow sheep it goes up to USD 23 thousand. It is just the local organisers who charge that kind of money, but there are still the outfitters, where the hunter orders the tour. Taking personal weapons to Kamchatka is nothing but trouble for foreign hunters. Right now, the hosting side has to deal with a lot of bureaucratic formalities, all the way to solving the problem of the client’s weapons safety on the hunt, on the mountain in a tent, using a special safe box installed there. While weapon rental is permitted in many civilised countries, it is, for some reason, not allowed in Russia and is unlikely to be allowed in the foreseeable future.

Analysing the experience of organising hunting tourism and trophy hunting abroad, it is easy to come to the conclusion that to save and revive the industry, it is necessary to create a framework independent of any ministry, similar to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This service must ensure fish and wildlife safety, monitor hunting and fishing resources in the country, and break down poaching that has overwhelmed Russia; the service should report directly to the president of the country. This will help to avoid delays in revising the entire legislative framework for restoring and improving renewable natural resources. The other line of action is creating a Russian National Hunter and Fisher Union as a coordinating centre for all interested non-government hunting organizations. The dialogue of the state and various non-government hunting organizations will help to prepare a single policy in this area, including changes in the existing hunting laws, which will work for the entire hunting community. As the end result, this will help to create a civilised hunting and fishing tourism industry adapted to global requirements as part of the Russian economy.


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