Despite the fines’ increase, the animals from the Red Data Book of Uzbekistan still remain at risk of extinction.
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This May, a scandal erupted in the ecosphere of Uzbekistan: the State Committee on Ecology allowed the “Yozyovon mahsus suv kurilish” company to excavate the sand from the Yazyavan desert, the state ecological reserve. The company needed the sand to finish the construction of the Yazyavan reservoir; about 30.88 thousand cubic meters of sand were supposed to be used. After excavating this volume of sand, the reserve would cease to exist.
The unique reptiles: Strauch’s toadhead agama, Fergana desert lacerta and Rustamov’s wonder gecko, are endangered. These lizards live exclusively in this region and nowhere else in the world. In addition to them, three more species of reptiles and two species of insects from the Red Data Book of Uzbekistan live in this desert. Four species of animals are included in the IUCN Red List as “endangered”.
After the attention was drawn to the issue by the social media users, bloggers and journalists, the situation was resolved. However, the animals, insects and plants from the Red Data Book are still endangered in Uzbekistan.
The Red Data Book of Uzbekistan and the Killing of Animals
In December 2019, the new edition of the Red Data Book of Uzbekistan was published. The new edition includes 314 plants and 206 animal species. The previous edition contained information on 324 plant species: 15 new species were added to the list, 157 changed their status, and the number of “probably extinct” species changed from 19 to 10. Also, the list includes 30 species of mammals, 52 species of birds and many others. After such optimistic figures, it seems that nothing threatens the country’s rare animals and the State Committee on Ecology protects flora and fauna.
Unlike the neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan prohibits the killing of animals listed in the Red Data Book. However, this does not protect them either from poachers or from dangers imposed by the state.
Over the past spring only, according to the State Committee on Ecology, over 10 specimens of animals and fish listed in the Red Data Book were killed or injured by humans. For example, in this March, 25 wild ducks and a coot were killed in the Moynaq district at once; at the end of March a rare white crane was wounded; overall, in the spring, the residents of the Republic caught a black vulture, a wolf, monitor lizards and many other animals. Calculating the total damage, the killing of goitered gazelles alone is estimated at 68,907,000 soms (around $6 million 761 thousand).
Fines for Illegal Killing and Trapping of Animals
Despite the facts that during the last year, the media frequently reported the toughing of fines for poaching, and the Ecology Committee still regularly conducts raids against illegal trapping of fish and animals, the flora and faunalisted in the Red Data Book continues to be endangered by humans.
Unlike Kyrgyzstan’s laws, the Uzbek legislation does not categorize fines for killing of animals, but simply punishes for trapping or hunting animals listed in the Red Data Book. The highest fine for killing such an animal was increased 6 times and now amounts to about 133,800,000 soms or $13,143.
Long before the pandemic, the State Committee on Ecology announced May of this year to be a month for the countering the poaching. What should have been included in this activity is a rather big mystery, the Committee announced only that it would put more efforts in countering the poaching, trapping and killing of fish and animals, as well as illegal use and slashing of flora. The Committee’s comment did not make it any clearer:
“Currently, we can observe that many problems are connected to poaching and it is even believed that the origin of the coronavirus pandemic is linked with the uncontrolled hunting and consumption of wild animals,” states the Committee’s press release.
What was done during the month of countering is a mystery, since due to the wide attention to the coronavirus, environmental problems, which were not considered even before, faded completely now.
The Ecological Party, which became active before the parliamentary elections, went underground again. Although, comparing to the previous years, environmentalists were brought together under one specific party and received the seats in the Oliy Majlis. However, their environmental activities are limited to focusing on plastic bags and raising serious concerns about how to make them biodegradable. Of course, the importance of plastic recycling cannot be denied, but when the entire party is concerned only with plastic, and completely disappears after the elections, one can draw conclusion about the environmental situation in the country.
The Legal Killing or Hunting Difficulties
The new law “On Hunting and Hunting Industry” was controversial even at the discussion stage: initially, the lawmakers planned to oblige all hunters (there are more than 38 000 of them in the country) to join hunting NGOs, and only then obtain a hunting permit. The deputies did not agree with this condition, since, according to them, it restricts the rights and freedoms of citizens, and besides, it is not easy to create and manage an NGO in Uzbekistan.
The draft was returned for revision and adopted in a new version. Before the adoption of this version, there were over 10 contradicting documents in the country. The new law outlined the state policy in hunting tourism sector, theissue of regulating the number of animals and the work of the hunting areas.
The hunting season for most of the animals in Uzbekistan starts from September 1 and lasts until January 31. The hunting for the trophy animals is allowed all year round. In fact, hunters and fishermen do not face difficulties in obtaining a license, but this entertainment still has the hidden problems. Among the animals that are allowed to hunt for are ibex or mountain goat, wild boar, hare, porcupine. Among the birds: pheasant, partridges, some species of ducks and quail.
There are more than 35 hunting areas in the country where the killing and trapping of animals is allowed. The most popular of them, perhaps, is the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. Since hunting and fishing are a part of ecotourism in Uzbekistan, the Park attracts both domestic and foreign tourists every year.
To become a hunter in Uzbekistan, one needs to obtain a hunting license which costs several minimum wages (minimum wage is about $66.5) and a permit for the hunting weapon, which will be rechecked annually. In addition to the weapon, a safe for storing it is required. However, according to the hunters, it is not difficult to obtain a permit and a hunting license, and the animals included in the Red Data Book are not listed in the hunting regulations.
However, the problems with the Red Data Books’ animals do happen. For example, the cormorant listed in the Red Data Book and harming fish farms every year creates the problem for fishermen. According to the legislation of the Republic of Uzbekistan, cormorants cannot be killed, and even scared away from the farms. To the journalist’s question on why it is impossible to introduce a small quota for hunting for cormorants, a representative of the regional department of the State Committee on Ecology said that this bird is not included in the Red Data Book, and it can be killed in any quantity.
In general, there are no serious problems in Uzbekistan with the hunting for animals by licensed hunters. The main danger are poachers who kill and trap animals without any permission.
The ecologist Natalia Marmazinskaya believes that there are two types of poachers in the country. Some are forced to do it, those who find food by doing it. Others become poachers for their excitement.
“For example, the saigas in the north of the country are killed for selling and smuggling the horns and the least of all, for their meat. The goitered gazelles are killed for the meat or entertainment. Most of the poachers are well equipped, that is, they are from the rich and “hunt” for the feelings of excitement and pleasure. The killing of leopards – the poachers hunt for their coats, which are highly valued when sold,” she says.
Falconry of Arab Sheikhs in Uzbekistan
What really ignites the indignation of the country’s residents and of animal rights activists around the world, is the falconry of the Arab sheikhs, which takes place around the world each year.
In 2008, on the initiative and support of the Emir of Dubai Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a center for the conservation and breeding of bustards was created near the Navoi city. In Uzbekistan, as in Russia and Kazakhstan, the bustards are included in the Red Data Book and are considered endangered species. In April 2019, 1000 birds were released into the wild at once under the slogan “Life returns to the Aral”.
In October 2019, the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum once again came to Uzbekistan to hunt for the Red Data Book’s bustards.
Unlike in Kazakhstan, in Uzbekistan there is no official permission to hunt for bustards, and according to the latest data, the cost of each bustard killed in Uzbekistan starts from $6 thousand. How much and how the Arab sheikhs paid for hunting in Uzbekistan is unknown. According to Ozodlik, the hunting license can be obtained for a certain amount, but the exact amount is not indicated.
It is difficult to imagine what kind of punishment will be applied to ordinary poachers who dare to hunt for the birds from the Red Data Book.
The hunting for bustards by the royal family is causing disputes and scandals for many years now. Initially, the Arab family hunted in the territories of Iran, but later they moved to Pakistan, where the bustards arrive for the winter. The country’s authorities provided permits and restrictions on hunting: no more than one hundred birds per person. However, in 2014, there was a collapse, and 33 of such permits were issued at once. The rumors leaked out that one of the princes killed 2,100 birds at once, exceeding the limit by 2,000 birds. During the public scandal, the Pakistani authorities banned the hunting for bustards on their territory, and canceled it later. Nevertheless, the Arab family went to Kazakhstan searching for the entertainment, where a permit for hunting for bustards exists exclusively for them since 1994. Unlike Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan has its own hunting quota (no more than 74 birds) and the cost of such a permit is 625,000 tenge, or $1,700 for 2018 for one bustard.
Will the Moratorium Help?
The Uzbek government planned to introduce a moratorium on the killing and trapping of animals from March 2020 to 2023. This could contribute to the conservation of biodiversity in the country. However, the latest news about the moratorium was published in February this year, and nothing else was heard about this initiative to this day.
The ecologist, Candidate of Sciences Natalia Marmazinskaya believes that with a good legislative framework for the conservation of biodiversity, the control over the implementation of these laws is far from perfect.
“It is hard for me to say anything on whether our animal protection authorities work better or worse. There is, of course, some progress, for example, the Karakalpakstan’s State Committee on Ecology began to work better, its press service began to regularly cover the work of the department online. The big problem is that control over the laws’ implementation works very poorly, there are very few biodiversity professionals in the State Committee on Ecology. The equipment of the environmental inspection is far from perfect, and I will repeat myself: the main problem is the lack of specialists in the country,” Marmazinskaya said.