DUSHANBE, September 25, 2010, Asia-Plus  -- Over the past decade, population of Marco Polo sheep has nearly tripled on territory of Tajikistan, Timour Nazarov, the head of the department for international cooperation within the Committee for Environmental Protection, told Asia-Plus on Saturday.

“Survey conducted by researchers this year has shown that there are now 24,000 Marco Polo sheep in Gorno Badakhshan,” said Nazarov, “According official figures, there were some 8,000-10,000 Marco Polo sheep in 2001.  Marco Polo sheep has entered Red book as endangered species.”

Last spring, the Committee for Environmental Protection and German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) signed an agreement on cooperation in environmental protection, he said.  “The agreement, in particular, provides for rehabilitation of forests and protection of cloven-hoofed animals.  One of provisions of the agreement stipulates counting of Marco Polo sheep’s population in the country.”  

We will recall that a two-year moratorium on hunting Marco Polo sheep introduced in Tajikistan on January 1, 2009 has been lifted ahead of schedule this month.

Marod Mirasanov, the head of the GBAO environmental protection agency, told Asia-Plus on September 6 that the moratorium has been lifted in order to enhance financing of local ecological projects because hunting for Marco Polo sheep has been one of major sources of revenue in the region and has allowed it to support environmental protection projects.  Due to the moratorium, there are now some 24,000 Marco Polo sheep in Gorno Badakhshan, which is twice as many than before 2009, he said.

“Financing of social and ecological activities due to revenue from hunting for Marco Polo sheep has already been put on the agency’s estimate of cost for the next month,” Mirasanov noted, adding that funds will go to purchasing coals for residents of Murgab district in order to preserve teresken pastures in Murgab and purchase of fodder to feed Marco Polo Sheep in winter.

In the 1980s, some 60,000 Marco Polo sheep reportedly lived in the high mountains of Gorno Badakhshan.

Before the moratorium, Tajik authorities were giving 45 Marco Polo sheep hunting licenses per year and according to some data, the price of one license is US$10,000-US$13,000.  The price of hunting tour is about US$25,000.

The Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii) is a subspecies of argali sheep, named after Marco Polo. Their habitat is the mountainous regions of Central Asia. Marco Polo sheep are distinguishable mostly by their large size and spiraling horns. Their conservation status is "near threatened" and efforts have been made to protect their numbers and keep them from commercial hunting. It has also been suggested that crossing them with domestic sheep could have agricultural benefits.