Sibecocenter is closely following the events after the helicopter accident in the Altai Mountains. The tragedy that unexpectedly interrupted the illegal hunting trip of high federal and regional officials from Altai has remained a centre of attention for many people for more than ten days in Russia as well as abroad. No other instance of illegal hunting during the past several years has attracted such public attention as this one. As the nowadays world doesn’t suffer from lack of significant and tragic catastrophes, it is all the more striking that this seemingly private (and all the more bitter, at that) incidence in the remote part of the Republic of Altai should trouble people to such an extent.
After all, these days have seen several helicopter accidents that have caused casualties, and this one is just one of those that happened to take place in Russia. НBut especially this accident in Altai remains a hot topic on websites, blocks and publications.
People died and this cannot leave us indifferent. We wish their family and friends strength and courage to overcome this sorrow. At the same time it is however impossible to forget that this accident would not have happened if the illegal hunting trip had not taken place and if those officials had not violated laws of the very country they were representing. And we must understand that if in this case the true guilty parties are not punished accordingly, we can only wait for more accident to happen.
I hope the closest ones of the deceased will forgive me for saying this, but I think that killing of the Altai argali is also a tragedy (see photos from the accident location).
And not only is it a tragedy, but also a criminal offence. The argali have been included in the Red Book of Russia as a vanishing sub-species; their hunting is forbidden and persecuted according to the article 258 of the federal code of Russia on illegal hunting. The only legal way of procuring argali in Russia is through applying for a special permission from the Russian Nature Supervision (issued in Moscow), in accordance with the territorial organ of the federal Supervision (in this case, that of Republic of Altai). However, the applications supported by the aforementioned regional officials from the few first days after the accident show without doubt that no such agreement existed. This means that the hunters could not have had permission for their hunt. Nevertheless, so far the Nature Supervision has not publicized its official reaction to the matter.
On 19th January, Sibecocenter and the regional non-governmental organization from Altai province, Geblerov Ecological Society (Barnaul), sent the respective inquiry to the Russian Nature Supervision with copies to the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, the General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation and the Boarder Control of the Federal Security Service.
There is still one more important aspect in relation to what happened. This illegal hunting is taking place in one of our most valuable territories in terms of biodiversity. The mountain range of Sailyugem (where the location of the accident, mountain Chernaya, is found) is a habitat for several species of flora and fauna that have been included in the Red Book of Russia. Many of them are not met anywhere else in the country anymore, or their range extends only to the closest surrounding areas of the mountain range. In 2001 the Russian government administrated that this area should be designated as a strict nature reserve. Only after long delay, a process for setting up a national park was started (instead of the planned strict nature reserve). Now the park is being planned and agreed upon, but with great difficulties as the leaders of the republic are trying to hinder the process. One of the most persistent and active adversaries of any expansion of protected territories in Altai was one of the very victims of the accident, the chairman of a committee for the conservation, use and reproduction of fauna in the Republic of Altai (and previously for many years, the head of the republic’s hunting management administration), V. Ya. Kaimin. In his fight against the protected territories, he did not hesitate to accuse the nature conservation organizations for subversive activities against Russia and the Republic of Altai, financed by foreign special services. The awful incident revealed many unsightly things. We hope that the real motives for Kaimin’s fight against foreign enemies will become clearer. If the mountain Chernaya had already been a national park, this illegal hunting might not have happened. In any case, the responsibility for it would have been heavier.
The deceased hunters paid a price much higher than any criminal code would ever have stipulated… After all, the maximum fine according to the article 258 is two years’ loss of freedom plus compensation for the damage caused and confiscation of the arms used for the offence.
The complete picture of the suggested poaching can now been drawn, even from the inaccurate and controversial information from the media, although many details remain unclear. The suggestion, that these high-ranking officials of the Russian Federation and Republic of Altai did not allow themselves only the dishonest privilege of poaching, remains here in brackets. Also corruption, unauthorized presence in a boarder zone and violation of regulations concerning air craft use could be mentioned.
However, this is only one version of the events. It can be erroneous and deliberately incomplete. For the truth to come out an honest investigation is needed. The high status of the victims as well as the reputation of some of the participants in this illegal hunt means that the investigation will be under considerable pressure. We hope that despite this, the investigation will be fully delivered and will end in an open court.
PS. The non-governmental organizations of Republic of Altai also sent an Appeal to the President of the Russian Federation, Federal General Prosecutor, and Representative of the Russian President in the Siberian Federal District, WWF, UNESCO, and State Assembly of Representatives of El Kurultai about the investigation of events in Altai.
Translation Ullastiina Mahlamaki