During an investigative expedition to the Sailyugem mountain range by Geblerov Ecological Society, the remains of one more killed argali (mountain sheep) was found, adding to the sad result of the illegal hunting trip that took place in the Altai on January 9 and ended with the helicopter crashing down and killing 7 people, including some high-ranking federal and local officials. During investigations on the south-west side of the mountain Chernaya on 28 May, the members of the Geblerov Society found the remains of a nine-year-old male mountain sheep (argali).
As was announced in the media, from the site of the helicopter accident, the carcasses of three killed argali were found and taken away for specialist inspection. In May 2, in a Community council meeting in the Altai province, one of the participants in the hunt, Anatolii Bannykh, also talked about three killed argali. This information turned out to be false. Above the site where the helicopter came down one more head of a killed sheep was found. The carcass of the animal had been pulled apart by predators and scavengers that inhabit the location. The head was heavily gnawed but bits of soft tissue, skin and fur unambiguously attest that the animal was killed over the past winter.
Ecologists and the civil society have been trying to raise the issue of legal action based on the Article 258 of the Criminal Code (on illegal hunting) for the past four months. Now the legal action has been started and the matter is under investigation. As is clear from the public documents concerning the matter, the case only states the killing of three animals. As it has now turned out, this does not match the reality.
The severity of the crime and the level of responsibility of those guilty depend on the number of animals killed. The fine defined by law for each killed argali is 300.000 rubles. Thus, with the fourth kill now found, the damage caused to nature and to the state amounts up to 1.200.000 rubles. It is however possible that the damage is not limited to the four animals found so far, as shooting from the helicopter might have injured several individuals that could escape but died later on somewhere in the inaccessible mountain ravines.
From ecological point of view the damage caused by the hunters to the sheep species is increased by the fact that all the animals killed were healthy adult males that carried a significant portion of the gene pool of the population. Surveys of the number and the age and sex distribution of the argali population in the Sailyugem range have revealed low numbers of males, which leads to inevitable decrease of the whole population.
The situation could be changed with the designation of the Sailyugem national park, which is being planned at the moment. However, the area proposed by the federal and local governments does not come close to solving the problem. Instead of the 80-100 thousand hectares that would be needed to sustain a healthy population of argali, a mere 19 thousand has been suggested. Such a small territory will not stop the sheep from wondering outside the park boundaries where they would again end up targets for hunters. Apart from argali, there are several other Red-listed species that inhabit the region. Unfortunately, the key habitats of manul, stone weasel, golden eagle, steppe eagle, saker falcon, Altai snowcock and many other rare species do not fall within the boundaries of the suggested park. Without active protection and large enough protected territory we might in the near future lose not only argali, but also the snow leopard and the Sailyugem bear, as we have already lost bustard, dzeren gazelle and the red wolf.
Geblerov Ecological Society