The North-Eastern part of Pakistan is bounded by the Hindu Kush, Himalayan
and Karakorum ranges. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The Hunza Valley, as it is called, claims to be the Shangrila of James
Hilton's novel, The Lost Horizon. In Shangrila people never grew old.
They lived in a paradise setting among snow-capped mountains and green
Not only is this area one of breathtaking beauty but it is home
to several endangered species of mountain animals like the Blue Sheep, the
Markhor Goat, the Marco Polo Sheep, the Snow Leopard and the Ibex. Among
these animals, the Marco Polo Sheep is almost extinct.
The Ibex is one of four species of mountain goats. It belongs to the
genus capra. The others are the Rocky Mountain Goat, the Cashmere Goat and
the Chamois. The Ibex is found in mountain ranges in parts of Europe, Asia
and Africa. Its coat is brown to gray in colour. The male Ibex has a
majestic head with heavy horns up to 1.5 metres long. The female has shorter
horns. They are surefooted and agile animals. They live in herds and are
Hunting for wildlife is a deeply-entrenched tradition in the culture of
the Hunza Valley villagers. Animals, especially the Ibex, are hunted for
food. One Ibex could feed several families. It is estimated that about 200
Ibexes used to be killed a year for food. This activity placed the Ibex
population in danger of extinction.
Anxious to save the Ibex population but not deprive the local inhabitants
of a source of food, the government and conservation societies set up the
International Trophy Hunting Organization. Hunting and killing of Ibexes by
the local population have been prohibited. Only regulated hunting by
foreigners is allowed. The organization makes available a strictly limited
number of hunting permits for Ibex trophy hunters per year. The cost per
trophy is about US$3,500. Successful hunters often donate a few thousand
more. The reasoning is that with controlled hunting, only twenty Ibexes are
killed in a year.
Almost all the money goes to the Hunza tribes for buying food, developing
their farms and improving the facilities of their homeland. For example
roads have been built and schools and women's vocational centres have been
set up. Because of these benefits, the valley dwellers have so far been
co-operative. They are strict about enforcing the law. Gamekeepers patrol
the area around the clock to prevent poaching. The penalty for unlawful
hunting is severe.
But cynics are questioning the system. How long can it be kept up? When
will corruption set in? How damaging is this flow of money into the simple
lives of the villagers? Will other endangered animals be included in this
scheme? There is already talk of charging US$120,000 per kill for the
beautiful and elusive snow leopards.
Voices of protests from the villagers have become strong. Some of them
consider their lifestyle and culture to be threatened. Money culture has
entered their lives. They cannot accept the reasoning behind sacrificing one
Ibex to save ten. To some villagers, the presence of foreign hunters free to
take part in a traditional activity now denied them seems disrespectful.
To these villagers, controlled hunting is an unwelcome intrusion in their
lives. Tourists themselves have asked, 'Why kill? Isn't it enough to bring
visitors to look at these magnificent creatures? Let us shoot with cameras,
not hunting rifles!'