Harvesting mature ibex by selling hunting licences for US$3,000 to foreigners began when WWF-Pakistan set up its pilot project introducing the concept of sustainable hunting in the Bar Valley. Locals can also buy licences at a reduced price.
The programme is now being replicated in all WWF's projects in the area, with 75 per cent of the licence fee given to the Bar Valley community for priority development initiatives, a principle now part of government legislation. For a community that has given up its tradition of hunting the ibex, this is its reward. The remaining 25 per cent of the fee goes to the government to cover management costs.
The Himalayan Ibex is sacred in the mountainous Northern Areas, symbolizing fertility and prosperity. As a result of this project the animal has certainly contributed to the prosperity of the local people. Its protection managed as part of a programme covering the sustainable use of resources could prove to be considerably more lucrative in terms of the area's development than old-style hunting was.
This year, of the 15 ibex hunting licences issued by the government of the Northern Areas, five were allocated to parts of the region covered by WWF projects. WWF-Pakistan's conservation adviser and expert in sustainable hunting programmes, Richard Garstang, was sent to the United States to market the concept and to encourage affluent hunters to purchase licences.
So it was that a husband and wife team, Pete and Virginia Papac, came to Pakistan. They had made countless hunting visits throughout the world. Pete bought a licence for the Khunjerab Buffer Zone while his wife, Virginia, bought her permit for the Gulkin Catchment.
They arrived to a warm welcome from the local people, who gave Pete a traditional cloak and hat and Virginia a hat and veil. The couple then set off on their separate quests. Pete was uncomfortable with heights and reluctant to climb 13,000 feet on an even more reluctant yak. Braver Virginia trekked on foot up to 15,000 feet across dangerous rocky slopes, in pursuit of her quarry. The locals doubted she would be able to make the dangerous hike, but she did.
Although the ibex were seen high on the slopes, it was obvious that getting them would not be easy, but Pete bagged his trophy later shipped to Seattle, Washington. Virginia was not so lucky. She saw some trophy-sized animals, but could not get within range. Even so, she said it was one of the best trips she had had.
Both Pete and Virginia took home with them something much more precious than a trophy. Being part of a different culture is always a pleasure for seasoned world travellers, but more important was their contribution to a community desperately in need of development assistance. Pete and Virginia became involved more directly than the purchase of hunting licences might suggest. When Virginia visited a local vocational sewing school, she was so impressed that she promised to make a donation. Pete indicated a willingness to send assistance for teacher training in the area where he had hunted.
Both the visitors understood the purpose of the programme and said they would gladly patronise it again. Perhaps one day Virginia will return for her prize.
The great virtue of the programme is that, as well as satisfying the basic human instinct to hunt, it appeals to the more sophisticated instinct of people to help others. If such efforts can be used to promote a change in perception among conservationists and among hunters, then they will help to bring change to communities willing to manage their natural resources. That will ensure the resources are sustainable for the future.
*Omayma Butt works for WWF Pakistan and is based in Gilgit