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Journal of Sustainable Tourism
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Local opinions on trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan
Ingeborg Nordbø, Bakyt Turdumambetov & Bilgehan Gulcan
To cite this article: Ingeborg Nordbø, Bakyt Turdumambetov & Bilgehan Gulcan (2017):
Local opinions on trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, DOI:
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09669582.2017.1319843
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Local opinions on trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan
, Bakyt Turdumambetov
and Bilgehan Gulcan
Department of Business and IT, University College of Southeast Norway, Hallvard Eikas Plass, Telemark, Norway;
Department of Travel Management and Tourism Guidance, Kyrgyz Turkish Manas University, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan;
Department of Tourism Management, Faculty of Tourism, Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey
Received 7 January 2016
Accepted 11 April 2017
As traditional international trophy hunting destinations are becoming less
accessible due to hunting restrictions and regulations, new destinations
are entering the scene, such as the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, located in
Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan has grown to be one of the top destinations for
international trophy hunting of argali Ovis ammon and ibex Capra sibirica,
both of which are in danger of extinction. Empirically, the article draws on
a case study from the largest region in Kyrgyzstan, At-Bashy, and 395
questionnaires with local inhabitants from 5 villages, and 1 interview with
an international trophy hunting tour operator. In this article, the impacts
of trophy hunting as a tourism practice in a rural context is discussed in
terms of its sustainability and through the opinions of the local
inhabitants. In sum, the negative impacts of trophy hunting in At-Bashy
seem to overrule the positive ones, and in its current form it is not
sustainable. The local inhabitants report about a decrease in argali and
ibex during the last years; they receive basically no economic beneﬁts
from hunting tourism; and not surprisingly, 70% of the population rejects
the further development of the industry in its current shape.
Trophy hunting; rural
sustainability; local opinions
As a number of the more traditional trophy hunting destinations are becoming less accessible due to
factors such as hunting restrictions, loss of wildlife and political instability, other destinations are
experiencing expansion (Lindsey, Roulet, & Roma~
nach, 2007) and new destinations are emerging.
One of the newer destinations is the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, located in Central Asia. In the post-Soviet
time, Kyrgyzstan has grown to be one of the top destinations for trophy hunting of argali Ovis
ammon (Marco Polo) and ibex Capra sibirica (Koshkarev, 2002; Kronenberg, 2014; Mallon, 2013;
The reports of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES) reveal that Russia and several Central Asian countries are popular destinations for
American and European hunters seeking trophies of various species (Mallon, 2013; Parry-Jones, 2013;
Vaisman, Mundy-Taylor, & Kecse-Nagy, 2013). Argali and ibex rams are popular among trophy hunters
due to their impressive and distinctive horns.
Argali is listed in the Red book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural
Resources (IUCN) in the category of “nearly threatened”(IUCN, 2016) as well as in the Red book of Kyr-
gyzstan (State Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry, 2006, p. 517). As such, argali hunting
in Kyrgyzstan should be forbidden. Despite this, Kyrgyzstan, as a trophy hunting destination, is
CONTACT Ingeborg Nordbø email@example.com
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
JOURNAL OF SUSTAINABLE TOURISM, 2017
experiencing growing demand and increased hunting due to the easy access to hunting permits as a
result of corruption (Koshkarev, 2002) and the relative cheapness of the destination (Turdumambe-
A number of researchers argue that trophy hunting is to be understood as a tourist activity (Baker,
1997b; Leader-Williams, Kayera, & Overton, 1996; MacKay & Campbell, 2004; Novelli & Humavindu,
2005). Higginbottom (2004) argues that trophy hunting is a form of hunting tourism, which in turn is
one of the four main forms of wildlife tourism. According to the IUCN, trophy hunting has the follow-
ing four features (IUCN, 2012, p. 2):
(1) it is part of a system of measures (programmes) implemented under the control of a govern-
mental body, local community, non-governmental organization or other legal structure;
(2) it is performed by hunters who pay a high price for the right to hunt for a representative of the
animal with “trophy features”;
(3) it is characterized by small seizures;
(4) usually, but not necessarily, it is performed by hunters from other places.
In this article, trophy hunting is understood as “a paid service provided to tourists whose main
travel motive is to hunt animals with outstanding features”. Outstanding features, or trophies, can be
game animals themselves as well as their derivatives, such as horns, skulls, hides, canines and others.
Through a case study of the At-Bashy region in Kyrgyzstan, the impacts of trophy hunting as a
tourism practice are discussed in terms of sustainability and through the opinions of the local inhabi-
tants. At-Bashy is the largest region in Kyrgyzstan and has the longest borderline with China; for his-
torical reasons it is the area in Kyrgyzstan where most trophy hunting takes place. The urgency to
conduct research in this geographical area is mentioned in the work by Heinen, Shukurov, and Sady-
kova (2001). In general in Central Asia and in particular in Kyrgyzstan, there are no research works on
the sociocultural aspects of the sustainability of hunting tourism or even on the sustainability of tour-
ism development as such (Lu & Nepal, 2009). The research undertaken will thus add to the existing
research on the sustainability of tourism both through its use of data from an under-researched geo-
graphical area and through its holistic approach to the study of impacts, focusing not only on the
environmental or economic aspects of trophy hunting but also on the sociocultural ones.
To identify possible points of reference for the empirical part of our research and identify research
gaps related to trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan, a review of the relevant literature on wildlife and hunt-
ing tourism was undertaken (see Table 1).
The review shows that trophy hunting is a contested and sensitive issue with a number of nega-
tive impacts reported in the international literature. Only a small part of the money from trophy hunt-
ing actually goes to local communities (Delibes-Mateos et al., 2014; Economists at Large, 2013;
International Fund for Animal Welfare [IFAW], 2016; Leader-Williams et al., 1996; Lindsey, Havemann
et al., 2013; Lindsey et al., 2007; Lovelock, 2008; Stein, Fuller, Damery, Sievert, & Marker, 2010;
Turdumambetov, 2011). The targets are large, majestic alpha males in their prime, a counter-
evolutionary tactic that exacerbates populations (Caro, Young, Cauldwell, & Brown, 2009; IUCN, 2016;
Koshkarev, 2002; Lewis & Alpert, 1997; Shukurov, 2013); many trophy animals are threatened and
dwindling. Studies show that hunting leads to steep population declines (Bashqawi, 2014; Deere,
2011; Dowsley, 2009; Gressier, 2014; Harris & Pletscher, 2002; Heffelﬁnger, Geist, & Wishart, 2013; Hei-
nen et al., 2001; Knezevic, 2009; Koshkarev, 2002; Leader-Williams et al., 2005; Lindsey, Balme et al.,
2013; Mahoney & Jackson, 2013; Marchand et al., 2014; Maroney, 2005; McGranahan, 2011; Naevdal,
Olaussen, & Skonhoft, 2012; Singh & Milner-Gulland, 2011). Trophy hunting also sets a bad precedent:
often only rich foreigners can hunt in places like Central Asia and Africa, making trophy hunting
appear reminiscent of colonialism; it is motivated by conspicuous consumption and dominance,
2I. NORDB;ET AL.
reducing beauty to possession (League against Cruel Sports, 2004). Poachers have been known to
exploit trophy hunting loopholes to launder illegal wildlife products en route to the black market
and so on (Braden, 2014; IFAW, 2016; Koshkarev, 2002; Leader-Williams et al., 2005; Lewis & Alpert,
1997; Lindsey, Balme et al., 2013). Additionally, many people simply consider that it is unethical to kill
an animal just for fun (Cohen, 2014; Hofer, 2002; IFAW, 2016; Matilainen & Keskinarkaus, 2010; Reis,
The literature also highlights that there is a need for further studies of the institutional dimension
of trophy hunting (Puhakka, Cottrell, & Siikam€
aki, 2014), with an emphasis on the perception of the
providers of trophy hunting services, governmental ofﬁcials, and the transition to eco- and cultural
tourism in the destination (Lemelin, Johnston, Dawson, Stewart, & Mattina, 2012).
Identiﬁed research topics and gaps
In the international literature, the environmental aspects of trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan are to be
found in the works by Heinen et al. (2001), Koshkarov (2002) and Werner (2003). The environmental
Table 1. Selected literature on trophy hunting tourism.
Characteristic Source Study regions
Ecological dimension Baker (1997a);
Caro et al. (2009);
Harris and Pletscher (2002);
Heffelﬁnger et al. (2013);
Heinen et al. (2001);
Leader-Williams et al. (2005);
Lindsey et al. (2013a);
Mahoney and Jackson (2013);
Marchand et al. (2014);
Naevdal et al. (2012);
Singh and Milner-Gulland (2011)
Southern and Eastern Africa
North America (Canada, USA)
North America (Canada)
South Africa and Namibia
North America (Canada, USA)
Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia)
Economic dimension Baker (1997b);
Delibes-Mateos et al. (2014);
Economists at Large (2013);
Leader-Williams et al. (1996);
League against Cruel Sports (2004);
Lemelin et al. (2012);
Lindsey et al. (2007);
Lindsey et al. (2013b);
Stein et al. (2010);
Eastern and Southern Africa
Southern and Eastern Africa
South and sub-Saharan Africa
Europe, North America, Africa, India, Arabia, and Oceania
Sociocultural dimension Braden (2014);
MacKay and Campbell (2004);
Matilainen and Keskinarkaus (2010);
rd and Uthardt (2011);
Puhakka et al. (2009);
Puhakka et al. (2014);
Iceland, Finland, Scotland, and Sweden
JOURNAL OF SUSTAINABLE TOURISM 3
aspects are also discussed in three reports by the Secretariat of the CITES (Mallon, 2013; Parry-Jones,
2013; Vaisman et al., 2013) and in several small analytical works by Shukurov (2012,2013,2015a,
2015b) and Turdumambetov (2011). The main conclusion from the CITES reports is that, when it is
well managed, trophy hunting can contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and local livelihoods
in Kyrgyzstan (Mallon, 2013; Parry-Jones, 2013; Vaisman et al., 2013) but that, in its present state,
the industry is not sustainable. Koshkarev (2002) presents quite a detailed analysis of trophy
hunting for the argali in Kyrgyzstan from 1990 to 2000, the main conclusion of which is: “In 10 years,
i.e. 1990–2000, the relative number of adult males decreased 3–5-fold, trophy ones 12–18-fold. Today
the hunting economies face an acute shortage of ‘currency goods’as there are almost no elite males”
(p. 30, own translation). Furthermore, with respect to the statistics, Shukurov (2012) notes that “the
number of the main object of ‘currency hunting’–argali (Marco Polo sheep) –dropped 4 times from
15 thousand in 1995 to less than 4 thousand in 2009. In 2009, the number of ibex dropped from 66
thousand to 31 thousand –2 times”(p. 1, own translation). Therefore, some authors suggest either
imposing a moratorium on hunting (Shukurov, 2015a) or using the argali and ibex in segments of
ecotourism such as photo hunting and video hunting (Turdumambetov, 2011).
Although the trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan has become exceptional in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, as
formerly argued, no ofﬁcial data on the revenues from the industry exist. According to the estima-
tions of Turdumambetov (2011), the annual government revenue from trophy hunting only on Argali
ranges from 900,000 to 1,500,000 USD.
In a more recent work, Kronenberg (2014) estimates the gov-
ernment revenue from trophy hunting of Argali to be 1,660,000 USD. No statistics are available
regarding the ibex. In terms of the economic beneﬁts for the local population in Kyrgyzstan, the
experts from CITES conclude in their reports that “most of the existing operations are commercially
based, especially in regard to Argali, and relatively few beneﬁts reach local communities”(Mallon,
2013, p. 29). The Law of the Kyrgyz Republic on hunting and hunting economy (2014) states that the
local authorities should receive 25% of the income from hunting, but nothing is mentioned about
payback to the local residents inhabiting the hunting grounds.
The literature review showed that only four articles touch upon aspects of trophy hunting in Kyr-
gyzstan and only with reference to ecological and economic impacts, while no studies examine
aspects related to social responsibility or host communities. The effects of trophy hunting on local
communities and sociocultural aspects have, in general, received little attention from the research
community (Liu, 2003; Magis, 2010; Matilainen & Keskinarkaus, 2010; Nyga
rd & Uthardt, 2011). In
terms of hunting tourism, it must be noted that social sustainability, in all of its meanings, is most
likely to be one of the most critical and complex issues to handle. A key question is “sustainability for
whom?”Different social actors have their own values and goals, which might not be compatible with
the objectives of another group (Matilainen & Keskinarkaus, 2010, p. 53).
For any form of tourism to be sustainable, the UNEP and UNWTO (2005) argue that it must take full
account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts and that it must
address not only the needs of the environment, the visitors, and the industry but also the needs of
the host communities. In line with this, McKenzie (2004) highlights that any form of wildlife tourism
must be not only economically sound and environmentally safe but also socially responsible. Accord-
ing to Keskinarkaus and Matilainen (2010, p. 5), social sustainability refers to a development that rein-
forces individuals’control of their own lives and the results of a socially sustainable development are
distributed equitably. For the latter to occur, the local inhabitants should at least be in favour of the
hunting. Second, it also means ensuring that at least some of the proﬁts from the exploitation beneﬁt
the local residents (Baker, 1997a; Harris & Pletscher, 2002; Hofer, 2002; Lewis & Alpert, 1997; Puhakka,
Sarkki, Cottrell, & Siikamaki, 2009; Shackleton, 1997). Ideally, money generated from license fees
should be given directly to local communities to pay for local salaries and monitoring, research and
management of the target populations (Lewis & Alpert, 1997; Shackleton, 1997).
Some researchers prefer to use the term “sociocultural dimension”(or “social–cultural dimension”)
instead of social sustainability (Nyga
rd & Uthardt, 2011; Puhakka et al., 2009,2014), the
social–cultural dimension being considered to refer to “human capital and quality of life”(Puhakka
4I. NORDB;ET AL.
et al., 2014, p. 482). Nyga
rd and Uthardt (2011) build on the work of Puhakka et al. (2009), in which
the social sustainability of nature-based tourism can be analysed from three perspectives: participa-
tion, distribution, and cultural sustainability. Their work (as presented in Table 2) was used as a point
of reference in the study undertaken of the sociocultural aspects of trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan.
Trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan
Until 1989 there was no trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan, especially not on the border with China, where
the Soviet Union (Kyrgyzstan) and China had disputed areas. The giant borderland, which is 1300 km
long, 50–100 km wide, and approximately 100,000 km
, was heavily protected throughout the
70 years of Soviet rule. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, at least 70% of argali, ibex, snow
leopards (Uncia uncial) and other species were concentrated on the borderland (Koshkarev, 2002).
Due to its “disputed area”status, even communist party bosses were not allowed to hunt there. As a
result, the nature remained pristine and the habitat and breeding conditions of the mentioned spe-
cies were good. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan became increasingly
popular as a trophy hunting destination, as shown in Figure 1, which presents the increasing demand
for argali in Kyrgyzstan between 1999 and 2014.
In Kyrgyzstan, all the hunting ground (including all the highlands inhabited by trophy animals)
belongs to the Government, and, according to Article 11 of the recent Law of the Kyrgyz Republic on
Table 2. Possible opportunities and threats to the social sustainability of hunting tourism (Nyga
rd & Uthardt, 2011, p. 387).
Dimensions of social sustainability
Participation Distribution Cultural sustainability
Opportunity Equal and democratic empowerment
of local communities and
Equitable distribution of beneﬁts
and burdens from tourism
Local stimulation through greater
exchange of persons, ideas, and
Threat Exclusion or reducing certain
stakeholders to submission
Unequal or unfair distribution of
beneﬁts and burdens from
Cultural clashes or violations of local
traditions, values, or practices
Number of specimens
Ibex no data
2003 2004 2
05 2006 200
7 2008 2009
for 2014 (wh
2010 2011 2
12 2013 201
specimen were hunted).
Figure 1. International demand for argali trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan (1999–2014).
JOURNAL OF SUSTAINABLE TOURISM 5
hunting and hunting economy, the right to conduct hunting is provided to legal entities (companies)
for a period of 15 years. The grounds to organize hunting cover almost 70% of the territory of Kyrgyz-
stan (Natural Resources Department, 2016b), while in contrast the entire network of specially pro-
tected natural territories occupies only 6% (World Bank, 2016). The trophy hunting tour operators
(mostly from the capital region) organize travel to different parts of the country, although the areas
alongside the Chinese border are the most frequented. They also often cooperate with inbound tro-
phy hunting operators from other countries. The Kyrgyz Government also gives hunting permits to
local inhabitants, and the numbers of local hunters have doubled on a national basis during the last
10 years. In At-Bashy, where our study was conducted, only ﬁve local inhabitants hold the right to
hunt (Natural Resources Department, 2016a). They are not, however, part of the trophy hunting
industry, since the purpose of their hunting is not trophies but meat for their livelihood and unlike
the trophy hunters, they do not participate in organized tours.
The At-Bashy region is situated in south eastern Kyrgyzstan (Figure 2) and is a distinct and sparsely
populated rural area. Its territory is surrounded by mountain ranges. The difference in absolute values
in the height of the mountains varies from 3000 to 5982 m; in the studied valley, the range varies
from 2000 to 3800 m.
In 2009, the district had a population of 49,238 (National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz
Republic (NSC), 2010). The population density is 2.6 people per square kilometre, the area encom-
passes 19,000 sq. km, and there are 19 villages in the district. At-Bashy is the most sparsely populated,
poorest, and one of a few mono-ethnic districts in the country (NSC, 2010). The undertaken study
shows that more than one-third of the people who answered the question on their annual income
reported it to be under 1000 USD (32.2% could not give an exact answer regarding their income).
The primary economic activity in the area is livestock and farming through self-sufﬁcient households
and a semi-nomadic way of life, in which almost all households are engaged in the seasonal move-
ment of their livestock between ﬁxed alpine summer pastures and winter pastures in the valleys and
lowlands. The moving starts in the spring and usually ﬁnishes at the end of the autumn.
Figure 2. Location of the At-Bashy region in Kyrgyzstan.
6I. NORDB;ET AL.
Of the total employed population in the At-Bashy district, 75% are employed in agriculture, 8% in
the ﬁeld of school education, 3.5% in the health sector (rural hospitals and clinics), 3% in state admin-
istration and 2.9% in the sphere of small and medium-sized businesses (trade, repair of motor
vehicles, household appliances and others). The unemployment rate is 6.8% (NSC, 2010, p. 147, 158).
The poverty rate was 43.8% in 2013 (of the total population), that is, people who earn less than
27,768.5 KGS per year (576 USD, according to the average exchange rate for 2013). The average per
capita income in 2013 amounted to 36,845.5 KGS, which is equal to 764 USD (NSC, 2014, p. 90).
The empirical part of the article consists of 395 questionnaires gathered from the local inhabitants of
the At-Bashy district in March 2014 and 1 interview with a trophy hunting tour operator conducted
in June 2013. Regarding the survey of the local inhabitants, it was necessary to have a sample of at
least 381 people according to the Krejcie and Morgan table (Krejcie & Morgan, 1970), because the
total population of the study area is about 50,000. In total, 400 questionnaires were prepared with 19
questions and 7 independent variables: gender, age, number of children, education, work, annual
income and income from hunting. Of the questions, 17 contained closed alternatives and an open
space for further comments and 2 were open questions, that is, without predeﬁned choices. A trial
was conducted from 29 January to 1 February 2014, during which 25 questionnaires were distributed
to 3 villages: Acha-Kaiyndy, At-Bashy and Kara-Suu. Subsequently, 23 questionnaires were returned
(2 people could not return them in time). This test then allowed us to optimize the questionnaire.
After the optimization of the questionnaire, at the end of March 2014, we travelled to the study
area with 400 questionnaires (each consisting of 6 A4 pages) and 400 pens as motivation presents
for the respondents (Ahlheim, B€
orger, & Fr€
or, 2013). Our very small incentive in the form of a pen
helped considerably in eliciting sincere and reliable answers. To understand how a pen really can be
appreciated that much, it is necessary to recognize the local area and the degree of poverty that
exists there. As formerly argued, At-Bashy is the poorest region in Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyzstan is itself
a poor country. Furthermore, our interviewers said that a small gift like a pen was important in
obtaining sincere and precise answers. This can be explained by the following factors: a pen is still
the most widely used instrument among the educated people in rural areas like At-Bashy, where
there is a serious lack of computers, so educated people and ofﬁce workers were glad to receive a
pen. As for respondents with no higher education degree who work mainly on farms, the Central
Asian mentality dictates that attention is more important than the gift itself. In rural areas, which are
mainly poor, even such a small incentive as a pen might play an important part in acquiring genuine
answers. School students in poor countries still mainly use pens instead of modern gadgets or com-
puters; thus, it is a small but pleasant bonus to the family budget. The pens were quite big, and they
carried the logo of one of the most popular universities in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, Manas Univer-
sity. Perhaps this helped in persuading the respondents that the interview was important.
To be able to conduct the study within the given time frame, we recruited seven local residents
(four of whom were school teachers with higher education and three of whom had experience of
interviewing gained through work with international health and agriculture organizations). They all
received special 3-hour-long training on interviewing for the study and helped in handing out and
gathering the questionnaires in the villages and in clearing up any ambiguities. The questionnaires
were anonymous, a point that was highlighted in the training of the interviewers. Thanks to the
prompt and diligent work of the interviewers, 395 or 98.75% of the questionnaires were returned. In
total, 32.9% of the respondents have a yearly family income under 1000 USD, 30.4% from 1000 to
3500 USD and only 4.6% above 3500 USD. A total of 32.2% of the respondents did not know their
annual income, which might be related to several factors: ﬁrst, the question was an open-ended one
in which they were asked to give an approximately exact number; second, a number of the local
inhabitants practice self-sufﬁciency and do not have a yearly or monthly salary as a reference base;
third, not all students and women had information about the earnings of their families (husbands);
JOURNAL OF SUSTAINABLE TOURISM 7
and, ﬁnally, generally people in Central Asia do not like to share information about their earnings. The
respondents’average age is 41.3, with a median of 42, and the standard deviation of their age is
23.1 years. Regarding gender, 50.4% of the respondents are men and 49.6% are women. In general,
the study shows that among the respondents the women have the highest education (among the
males 15.7% have no school education beyond secondary school, while for women the number is
Given the rather low income of the majority of the respondents (32.9% are within the extreme
poverty group according to the measurement by the UN), it might seem odd that so many of the
respondents have a university education. This factor has to be understood within the wider socio-his-
toric context of the country: ﬁrst of all the legacy from Soviet Union times when education was free
and when several of the jobs in rural areas would require a university degree; furthermore, during
Soviet rule a degree was a determinant of success, and because of that education is still highly valued
and quite affordable in Kyrgyzstan. In the understanding of Kyrgyz people, a person might need
some sort of title or degree regardless of whether they use it in their daily lives. For many people,
lacking a higher education is considered as a disadvantage. Thus, whenever a young man or a girl
graduates from a high school, he or she applies to the university, sometimes even without taking
care of future employment prospects and choosing degrees that will never be used. Second, many
women have a degree in pedagogy, because teaching is the most widespread job among women in
The frequency analysis technique and cross-tabulations with x
test analyses were performed with
the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (IBM SPSS Statistics), Version 20.
Hunting bases and numbers of game animals: controversies and disputes
Due to the way in which trophy hunting is organized in Kyrgyzstan (as formerly argued), information
from the interview with the trophy hunting tour operator and personal knowledge about the At-
Bashy region (one of the researchers was born in the region), it was assumed that most of the local
inhabitants would not know that they lived in an international trophy hunting destination. However,
concerning the question of whether they think that At-Bashy is well known for receiving international
trophy hunters, more than 62% of the respondents agree and only 12% disagree. A question was also
included regarding whether the respondents know about any “hunting bases”, infrastructure for tro-
phy hunting, in the nearby areas. The results show that only 22.5% of the respondents know about
such infrastructure. This ﬁnding is a little surprising given the fact that researchers report an increas-
ing number of such installations to cater for the growing demand from trophy hunters. Turdumam-
betov (2011) argues that at least 20 such hunting bases exist in the At-Bashy region and maybe as
many as 40. Kronenberg (2014, p. 258) argues that the actual number might even be 80. If we com-
pare those who think that At-Bashy receives international trophy hunters with those who are also
aware of the existing hunting infrastructure, we see that the percentage rises slightly (to 30.2%). Among
those who do not know that their region is famous for receiving international trophy hunters, 14.2% still
know about the existing hunting infrastructure. The study thus shows that the local inhabitants think
that the region of At-Bashy is well known for receiving international trophy hunters; however, rather few
of the respondents know about any speciﬁc hunting bases installed in the nearby mountains.
The fact that so few of the local inhabitants know about any hunting bases might indicate that the
trophy hunting industry in Kyrgyzstan is rather closed and distant from the everyday life of the local
inhabitants in terms of involvement and information. The group of people who are most informed
are the farmers, who, due to their semi-nomadic lifestyle, are more able to observe such installations
near their summer pastures.
The respondents were asked whether they had observed any signiﬁcant decrease in the numbers
of argali or ibex during the last years and whether they had witnessed it on their own or more
8I. NORDB;ET AL.
indirectly through the talk of others (elderly people in their village, grandparents, neighbours, etc.).
As shown in Table 3 more than 85% of the respondents, 337 people, had noticed a signiﬁcant
decrease, and of these 34% reported that they had witnessed the decrease directly themselves, while
66% had noticed it indirectly. The decreasing population issue was studied more thoroughly using
the cross-tabulations with the x
The effect of age, number of children, job and annual income is not signiﬁcant, while gender and
education correlate strongly with the opinion of a decreasing population of animals. The correlation
with gender is very strong (p<0.000), and in this respect it is interesting to note that, while 65.3% of
females have heard about the decline in populations through others and only 20.4% have observed
it themselves, the percentages among the men are quite different: 37.7% of males had observed the
decline themselves, while 40.7% had heard about it from others. The respondents who reported hav-
ing earnings from hunting, though there were only four of them, conﬁrmed that the number of argali
and ibex has decreased. As regards education, which is also quite strongly related, the respondents
with higher education and students are clearly more concerned about the decreasing population of
animals, though most of them had noticed a decrease indirectly, via information from others.
ThepeopleofAt-Bashyhaveforcenturieslivedasemi-nomadic lifestyle, spending several months
of the year in the habitat of the argali and ibex and thus having close visual contact with these animals.
Hence, the local inhabitants reporting signiﬁcant decreases in the population of argali and ibex, either
through their own observation or as heard through others (elderly people of the area, farmers, etc.) is
an important ﬁnding. The issue of the decreasing population of argali and ibex is, however, a disputed
one. Although a number of researchers, in line with the observations from the local population, report
a sharp decline in the numbers (Koshkarev, 2002; Shukurov, 2015a), governmental sources, such as the
Kyrgyz State Agency for Environment Protection and Forestry, claim that the situation is stable or that
there has even been an increase. For instance, according to the ofﬁcial government sources, the num-
ber of argali increased from 4700 to 10,375 between 2008 and 2013 and the number of ibex from
34,778 to 40,825 (NSC, 2013, p. 33). Shukurov (2015a)argues,“according to messages from different
places the numbers of argali and ibex have shrunk and in some areas they have disappeared. Never-
theless, the state agency continues to report the growth of their populations, even if tiny, but growth!”
(own translation). The respondents with higher education in our study (among them a number of
school teachers) and students are the ones who are most concerned about the decreasing population
of the argali and ibex. It is assumed that this is likely to be related to them having more information
about environmental problems and a broader outlook in general. Over time their attention towards
the issue will grow, and they will pressure the authorities to respond.
Table 3. Residents’opinions on the reduction in the number of argali and ibex (%).
Yes, I have observed
Yes, I have heard of
it from other people No
= 15.906, df =2,p<0.000)
Male 199 37.7 47.2 15.1
Female 196 20.4 65.3 14.3
= 15.531, df =8,p<0.050)
University 184 26.6 59.8 13.6
Technical school 93 21.5 62.4 16.1
High school 25 32.0 64.0 4.0
School 91 40.7 40.7 18.7
Other 2 50.0 50.0
Income from trophy hunting (x
= 9.318, df =4,p<0.054)
Yes 4 50.0 50.0
No 364 29.1 57.4 13.5
I don’t know 27 25.9 40.7 33.3
Question: Have you observed any reduction in the number of argali and/or ibex during the last years?
Note. Nis the number of respondents in each row category. The attitudinal distribution is displayed as percentages within each
row. Only signiﬁcant (at least on the 0.50 level) relationships are reported.
JOURNAL OF SUSTAINABLE TOURISM 9
External tour operators and economic leakage
Only 14% of the respondents think that the regional authorities have any income from trophy hunt-
ing, but 46% of these respondents think that the income is considerable. The cross-tabulations of the
test show that occupation is signiﬁcantly (p<0.017) related to the respondents’view on this ques-
tion. Among the respondents working in the regional authorities, 46% think that the regional author-
ities receive an income from trophy hunting. This is quite a high percentage compared with the
other occupations (among the respondents working in the police, for instance, the percentage is
When we consider whether the respondents think that their village or community has any income
from trophy hunting, 56.5% do not think so, 9.9% think that it has, and the rest do not know. Perform-
ing the cross-tabulations with the x
test, we ﬁnd that gender and occupation are strongly related to
the opinion of the respondents (Table 4).
Three times more females than males do not think that their community or village obtain any eco-
nomic beneﬁts from trophy hunting. Those who work in the private sector (66.1%) or in a govern-
mental agency (66%), followed by retired people (65%) and people in the police (65%), are the most
reluctant to think that their village or community has any income from hunting tourism. The ones
who are more likely to think that the community receives an income are the farmers (20%) and the
entrepreneurs (18%). The effects of age, education level and income from hunting tourism are insig-
niﬁcant. The respondents were also asked whether anyone from their community or village worked
in trophy hunting, and 31.6% of the respondents conﬁrmed this, 37.3% answered negatively and
31.1% did not know.
Economically, trophy hunting is apparently not a lucrative business for At-Bashy and its inhabi-
tants. Only four people reported having any income from trophy hunting, and the respondents who
think that the regional authorities or their local community or village gain anything from the activity
are generally few. In terms of income for the regional authorities, it is interesting to note that almost
50% of the people working there believe that trophy hunting contributes to the budget income of
their work institution. Nevertheless, most of the revenue from trophy hunting is part of the shadow
economy of Kyrgyzstan, and most of the proﬁts are gained by the tour operators and a few local or
regional ofﬁcials related to these companies. Thus, the beneﬁts for local communities are
In relation to the question about “hunting bases”, we also included a question about whether the
local inhabitants know about any tour operators that organize hunting tours for foreign people. The
fact that we focused on “foreign people”was due to our former knowledge and the information that
Table 4. Residents’opinions on whether the community/village has any income from trophy hunting (%).
NR Yes No Don’t know
= 13.432, df =2,p<0.001)
Male 199 14.6 57.8 27.6
Female 196 5.1 55.1 39.8
= 38.700, df = 18, p<0.003)
Police 31 64.5 35.5
Farmer 63 20.6 60.3 19.0
Student 30 13.3 53.3 33.3
Private sector 56 3.6 66.1 30.4
Public sector/state administration 47 6.4 66.0 27.7
Entrepreneur 11 18.2 54.5 27.3
School teacher 66 7.6 51.5 40.9
Unemployed or housewife 45 11.1 31.1 57.8
Retired 23 4.3 65.2 30.4
Unknown 23 17.4 52.2 30.4
Question: To your knowledge, does your village or community receive any income from trophy hunting?
Note. Nis the number of respondents in each row category. The attitudinal distribution is displayed as percentages within each
row. Only signiﬁcant (at least on the 0.50 level) relationships are reported.
10 I. NORDB;ET AL.
we had obtained from the interview with the tour operator in Bishkek. Surprisingly enough, 72
(18.2%) of the respondents answered positively.
The cross-tabulations with the x
test show that again there is a strong connection between the
gender (p<0.002) and occupation (p<0.001) and the knowledge of the local population about the
tour operators (Table 5). The effects of the education level and annual income are also signiﬁcant.
After farmers, the next most aware group is entrepreneurs (36.4%), then private sector employees
(23.2%), and, ﬁnally, ofﬁcials (17%).
Two other questions were also included to gain more information about the tour operators
among those who answered “yes”to the above question. The ﬁrst follow-up question thus dealt with
the geographical origin of the owners and had the following closed alternatives: “businessmen from
Bishkek”,“businessmen from At-Bashy”and “others.”An open comment space, as with the other
“closed”questions, was provided at the end of the questionnaire. Of the 72 respondents who con-
ﬁrmed that they know about trophy hunting tour operators, 29% stated that they think they are busi-
nessmen from Bishkek (the capital), while 58% believe that they are local businessmen from At-
Bashy. For the second follow-up question, in which the respondents were asked to give exact names
of possible owners of the tour companies, 16 people provided exact names, which all pointed to the
same person. Clearly, the farmers are better informed than the other respondents, as, among those
who wrote down an exact name, 38% were farmers.
A search on the Internet showed that this person was a region-level ofﬁcial who had worked for
many years in environment protection in the above-mentioned state agency and who had even
received a medal from the President of Kyrgyzstan for the merit of environment protection. This case
is a good indication of the level of challenge in Kyrgyzstan, where former state employees move into
private enterprise, selling what they were previously employed to protect. According to Turdumam-
betov (2011), it is hard or almost impossible to achieve good governance of the use of natural
Table 5. Residents’knowledge about trophy hunting tour operators (%).
NR Yes, I know No, I don’t know I can’t answer
= 12.941, df =2,p<0.002)
Male 199 25.1 66.8 8.0
Female 196 11.2 78.1 10.7
= 15.670, df =8,p<0.047)
University 184 18.5 71.7 9.8
Technical school 93 16.1 79.6 4.3
High school 25 4.0 80.0 16.0
School 91 23.1 65.9 11.0
Other 2 50.0 50.0
= 41.388, df = 18, p<0.001)
Police 31 12.9 80.6 6.5
Farmer 63 38.1 54.0 7.9
Private sector 56 23.2 71.4 5.4
Public sector/state administration 47 17.0 78.7 4.3
Entrepreneur 11 36.4 63.6
School teacher 66 7.6 81.8 10.6
Unemployed or housewife 45 8.9 71.1 20.0
Retired 23 8.7 82.6 8.7
Student 30 10.0 73.3 16.7
Unknown 23 21.7 69.6 8.7
Annual income (x
= 21.293, df = 10, p<0.019)
Under 1000 USD 130 14.6 76.2 9.2
1001–2000 USD 65 21.5 69.2 9.2
2001–3500 USD 55 21.8 69.1 9.1
3501–6500 USD 13 53.8 38.5 7.7
6501 USD and over 5 60.0 40.0
Can’t answer 127 13.4 76.4 10.2
Question: Do you know of any tour operator(s) that organize(s) trips for international trophy hunters?
Note. Nis the number of respondents in each row category. The attitudinal distribution is displayed as percentages within each
row. Only signiﬁcant (at least on the 0.50 level) relationships are reported.
JOURNAL OF SUSTAINABLE TOURISM 11
resources and environmental protection throughout the post-Soviet area in general and in Kyrgyz-
stan in particular, because of the level of corruption, which in Kyrgyzstan is described as being in a
deplorable state (Braden, 2014; Transparency International, 2014).
The widespread violation of environmental laws by the local population, state ofﬁcials, and organ-
izers of hunting tours in Kyrgyzstan is a signiﬁcant challenge, and some authors argue that it is par-
tially a consequence of trophy hunting’s development (Koshkarev, 2002; Turdumambetov, 2011).
However, the case might be as much the other way around; corruption leads to uncontrolled and
unregulated development and unsustainable praxis. It is worth noting that foreign hunters might
have no information about the violation of environmental regulations.
Traditional lifestyle, elitism and the lack of support for further development
The study also included a question regarding who the respondents, according to their observation,
think are the people who are most likely to hunt for argali or ibex, with the following possible
answers: “foreign tourists”,“rich Kyrgyz people”,“border guards”,“local people”and “others.”Aﬁeld
for qualitative comments was also provided. Among the respondents who answered that they know
about tour operators, 45.3% think that rich Kyrgyz people hunt the most for argali and ibex, while for-
eigners are in the second place, accounting for 25% of the answers. The local inhabitants are in the
third place, with 10% of the responses. Among the farmers, who were the segment that most often
provided a concrete name for tour operators, the corresponding percentages are 47.6% (rich Kyrgyz
people), 33.3% (foreign tourists) and 4.8% (local people).
The questionnaire also included an open question about the symbolic value of the argali and ibex
to the local people: “What do argali and ibex mean to you in your life?”Though 35% of those polled
answered abstractedly that those animals have the highest value in their lives, 26% mentioned
exactly that they have environmental value, 7% noted their particular importance for the future gen-
eration, and 12% associated them with the beauty of the mountain landscapes. Another 3.5% of the
respondents believe that they are a Kyrgyz “brand”, meaning that argali and ibex are symbolic ani-
mals for Kyrgyz people. Until the twenty-ﬁrst century, the traditions and culture of the Kyrgyz people
were tightly interwoven with the wildlife of the country, and biodiversity was at the heart of the spiri-
tual development of the nation, resulting from its origins as a nomadic society. A close relationship
with and understanding of nature were an integral part of the culture of the Kyrgyz nation. Formerly,
cultural traditions and folklore did not encourage local inhabitants to kill animals like argali, ibex,
deer and snow leopards (Aitpaeva, 2006). When the respondents thus described the argali and ibex
as the animals that have “the highest value”to them, it may be due to the fact that they are often
described in local folklore as holy animals.
To evaluate any changes in this tradition, we therefore also asked whether any of the respondents
have a stuffed head of either of the two animals in their home. A total of 92% of the respondents did
not have a stuffed argali or the head of an ibex with horns at home, as is normal in Western countries
among trophy hunters, while 6% conﬁrmed that they have, and 8% of the respondents who do not
currently have a stuffed argali or ibex answered that they would like to have such a head on the wall
in the future. A more thorough analysis of the question using the cross-tabulations with the x
showed that the local inhabitants’education level is strongly related (p<0.004) to their wish to have
a stuffed argali or ibex head at home in the future; the less educated the individual, the higher is the
desire. Those who earn money from hunting tourism are three times more prone to want to have a
trophy than the other categories, but again this represents only four people.
Only 13.9% of the respondents think that trophy hunting for argali and ibex is performed legally
(possible answers were “yes”,“no”and “don’t know”). Among those who are employed in areas that
would normally involve the regulation of the hunting, we see that the percentage varies signiﬁcantly
(p<0.126). Among the local police, 0% think that the hunting is legal, while as many as 68% do not
know; among the district ofﬁcers, 23% think that it is legal, while 43.2% do not know. A total of
65.8% of the respondents do not support the further development of trophy hunting in At-Bashy,
12 I. NORDB;ET AL.
and 4.8% of the respondents support it only if it takes place in accordance with the laws and if the
local inhabitants will gain beneﬁts from it. An analysis of this question using the cross-tabulations
with the x
test showed that there is a strong correlation (p<0.001) between whether the respond-
ents think that the hunting is legal or not and their opinion regarding future development. Among
those who think that it is illegal, 72.3% do not support any further development. Age has a signiﬁcant
(p<0.000) bearing on the opinion of local inhabitants with reference to further development, and
especially younger people are against it. The number of children and level of education (p<0.000, p
<0.0045) have a strong bearing as well, those with fewer children and higher education being more
negative. Entrepreneurs and government ofﬁcials view the further development quite positively, as
well as those few who actually report receiving an income from trophy hunting.
The body of literature on tourism’s impacts highlight that, in general and speciﬁcally when it comes
to rural areas, most tourism developments have been implemented without considering the poten-
tial impacts. Such is the case of trophy hunting, as observed from the review of the international
research literature on the topic and as seen through this case study of trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan.
Furthermore, the UNEP and UNWTO deﬁnition of sustainable tourism highlights that, for tourism to
be sustainable, it must address the needs of the environment, the visitors and the industry, and the
host communities. Clearly, in our case only the industry’s and the visitors’needs seem to have been
met, not the needs of the local communities in the area where the trophy hunting takes place.
With reference to the theoretical framework put forward in terms of the sociocultural sustainability
of hunting tourism, we could argue that it seems from the study that on average the members of the
local population are not very informed about the development of trophy hunting in their area, and
they lack the basic information necessary to take part in any decision-making processes. Even the
local authorities cannot inﬂuence the development of trophy hunting, again mainly because of the
lack of information. In Kyrgyzstan, all the decisions concerning the development of trophy hunting
are initiated by the central government and local authorities; in the best case, they only execute
them, while, in the worst case, they only observe the activities of tour operators from the outside.
Trophy hunting was, as argued, not a common activity in the tradition of the Kyrgyz people in
general or in the At-Bashy region prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Correspondingly, few of
the respondents have a stuffed head of argali or ibex on the wall of their home. Although nine
respondents stated that they would like to have such a trophy in the future, the results are not signif-
icant. The majority of the trophy hunters, according to the local inhabitants, are wealthy Kyrgyz peo-
ple assimilating rich Western traditions and not foreign trophy hunters as we assumed at the
beginning of the research. However, since it has not been possible to talk directly with more than
one tour operator and acquire information about their clients, and the local inhabitants are not, as
seen from the research, particularly well informed about the trophy hunting taking place in their
region, we cannot really draw any conclusions at this point. The study addresses the urgency of the
problem: it is a problem if people in positions of inﬂuence are seen to make a lot of money from tro-
phy hunting while the local population in the destination area continues to suffer from poverty.
In sum, the negative impacts of trophy hunting seem to overrule the positive ones in At-Bashy,
and in its current form it is not sustainable. Although there is a perception, especially among ofﬁcials,
that trophy hunting generates signiﬁcant revenues that could contribute to the conservation of the
species and improve local livelihoods, such is not the case in the At-Bashy region or in Kyrgyzstan in
general at the present. It is thus not surprising to ﬁnd that the majority of local inhabitants (up to
70%) do not support the further development of trophy hunting in their area. To gain the support of
local inhabitants for trophy hunting, the Government should make the decision-making process
more transparent and tour operators should share the beneﬁts with the local inhabitants. The envi-
ronmental NGOs, which have seats in the capital, should also be more active in the region to monitor
the activity. Furthermore, a (temporary) moratorium on trophy hunting should be put in place; ﬁrst,
JOURNAL OF SUSTAINABLE TOURISM 13
to allow for a proper evaluation of the situation; second, to avoid the local population’s discontent
growing into a conﬂict; and, ﬁnally, to assure enough time for the implementation of the necessary
protective and inclusive measures.
Our study shows that more research needs to be directed to investigating the trophy hunting
industry in Kyrgyzstan in general and the tour operators and their customers speciﬁcally. However,
due to issues of corruption and trophy hunting being part of the shadow economy of Kyrgyzstan, as
discussed, this might prove to be difﬁcult.
The questionnaires in the undertaken study were distributed in 5 out of 19 villages, which could
be seen as a limitation. However, we wanted to gain a representative sample at the regional level
according to the Krejcie and Morgan table (Krejcie & Morgan, 1970) and within the given time frame
and budget. A total of 56.5% (27,835) of the population of the At-Bashy region lives in these chosen
villages, and we do not expect that answers from the other villages would differ signiﬁcantly.
Looking back, we also see that it would have been useful to include other questions or to have
elaborated further on some of the questions to obtain more speciﬁc information. At the beginning of
the research, we planned to interview Kyrgyz trophy hunting tour operators ﬁrst to provide back-
ground information for the development of the questionnaire. However, after the ﬁrst interview with
a tour operator in the capital area that provided trophy hunting tours to our region, it became clear
that the tour operators would be unlikely to provide reliable information unless we camouﬂaged our
study, pretending to be a possible business partner or suchlike, which we did not consider to be
ethical. Even this single interview was difﬁcult, because the tour operator clearly did not welcome
scholars studying the activity (the respondent avoided and even refused to answer a number of
the more sensitive questions). At that point we were aware that trophy hunting in Kyrgyzstan might
be a sensitive issue, but the degree of the sensitivity of the activity that became evident during our
study surprised us.
1. Annually, the government issues between 60 and 100 licenses for argali hunting, and one license costs about
15,000 USD (Turdumambetov, 2011).
We especially thank the participants and interviewers of this study. We gratefully acknowledge Adilet Amalkanov, Atyr-
kul Mambetakunova, Azamat Nurdinov, Balyibubu Kadyralieva, Bolot Matakov, Duyshobubu Albanova, Nurjan Amanku-
lova, Usonakun Turdumambetov, and Gordon Campbell for their assistance with the survey/interviews.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the authors.
Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU) [Project no CPEA-2011/10017].
Notes on contributors
Ingeborg Nordbø is an associate professor at the Department of Economics and IT at The University College of southeast
Norway, and is the leader of the research group on sustainable tourism. She received the PhD degree in tourism/entre-
preneurship and the MSc degree in international economics and business administration from the University of Aalborg,
Denmark, and has specialized in tourism development, sustainability and entrepreneurship in rural areas. She has
worked as an advisor and manager of various projects within tourism and local community development and in a num-
ber of international settings, such as Denmark, Chile, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, China and Norway.
14 I. NORDB;ET AL.
Bakyt Turdumambetov is Head of the Department of Travel Management and Tourism Guidance, Kyrgyz Turkish Manas
University. He received the PhD degree in economics from the National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic. He
is the author of the monograph Challenges and Perspectives of Tourism Development in Mountainous Conditions of the Kyr-
gyz Republic (2005, in Russian) and the co-author of the ﬁrst manual in Central Asia for the course of “Ecotourism”(2006,
in Russian). His current research interests cover international hunting tourism and equestrian and halal tourism potential
ulcan is an associate professor at the Department of Tourism Management in the Faculty of Tourism at Gazi
University, Turkey. He received the PhD degree in education of tourism and hotel management and the MSc degree in
tourism and hotel management from Gazi University, Turkey, and has specialized in tourism marketing, tourism educa-
tion and alternative tourism. He has worked as a head of department and director of the Tourism and Hospitality Man-
agement Higher School in Kyrgyz Turkish Manas University for ﬁve years. He has conducted and participated in several
international and national projects, especially in tourism education and tourism development in Turkey and Kyrgyzstan.
His current research interest is tourism in Central Asia.
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