The Torghar conservation project: trophy hunting as a way to preserve endangered species

Residents of the Torghar community. Photo courtesy of A. D'oro

Alexander D'oro is a member of the Russian Geographical Society, director of documentary and feature films, producer, professional photographer, artist. He travels around the world and is engaged in filming programs about nature conservation, ethnography and nature conservation hunting.


Alexander D'oro. Photo courtesy of A. D'oro

Alexander and his three companions flew to Pakistan in early March 2022. They visited the territory of Balochistan province called the Sulaiman Mountains. The purpose of the trip was to participate in the Torghar conservation project. Alexander and his companions flew to Islamabad from Moscow, their local friends picked them up from the airport.


Balochistan Province. Google Maps

They flew to the town of Zhob by private helicopter to refuel, and then headed to the mountains. It takes 4-5 hours to get there from Islamabad by helicopter.


Eurocopter of the Pakistan Air Force. Photo courtesy of A. D'oro

It is worth noting that all aviation in Pakistan belongs to the army. The helicopter was provided by the Pakistan Air Force. All pilots who carry out commercial flights are well-trained and have a large number of flight hours. In addition, they undergo specialized missions – for example, transporting tourists to Everest.


In the Torghar community. Photo courtesy of A. D'oro

Residents of the Torghar community have been engaged in the conservation of three endangered species for about 30 years. These species are Suleiman markhor (Capra falconeri), also known as the straight horned markhor, the Afghan urial (Ovis orientalis) and the snow leopard (Panthera uncia). Nature conservation activities began with the conservation of snow leopards, which have been hunted down for a long time. The bloody war, poverty, lack of good medicine, a huge number of weapons owned by the locals – all this contributed to poaching. People had no money, they used barter offering each other meat or milk in exchange for something. The main food base of snow leopards – markhors and urials – were threatened with extinction. Something had to be done urgently. The first American wildlife conservation specialists arrived in Pakistan, and then the first model of the Torghar conservation project appeared.


Sulaiman Mountains. Photo courtesy of A. D'oro

The project was based on trophy hunting. Pakistan is a difficult region, you can't take tourists there to see elephants and tigers like they do it in India. In addition, Pakistan cannot compete with India and its national parks in terms of facilities. It was not possible to invest large sums of money in creating these facilities, in building five-star hotels and importing equipment. Trophy hunters on the other hand do not need such things, they only need some basic housing, even a shepherd's hut is fine for them. They take pride in spending nights in difficult conditions. Another feature of the project is the high cost of animal licenses, it reaches several tens of thousands of dollars per animal.


A local resident of the Torghar community. Photo courtesy of A. D'oro

The first model of the project was carried out by Pakistani wildlife conservation organizations together with the government, but it was unsuccessful. The territory of Balochistan was part of the territory of the tribes. De jure it was Pakistan, de facto there was no government, only tribes and communities that did not accept strangers violating their freedom and interfering with their lives. It got to the point that after learning that the official authorities of Pakistan were selling hunting licenses to foreigners, local residents began to kill rare IUCN Red Lis animals in spite of the authorities, and the threat hanging over the animals became even greater.

 In 1991, experts reviewed all the challenges and created the second model of the project. The difference lies in the fact that hunting and selling licenses is now carried out not by the government, but by the local community. It counts the animals, takes care of their protection and applies for licenses. 80% of the income from licenses goes to the budget of the local community, which it spends at its discretion, and only 20% remains with the state. Usually this money is used to build schools, hospitals, roads, dams and water tanks, which are essential because the region is deserted. The government also organizes the counting of animals, the work of scientists and the collection of genetic material. Thanks to this model, local residents realized the benefits of animal conservation. In just two years they stopped hunting markhors and urials down entirely.


Residents of the Torghar community. Photo courtesy of A. D'oro

A community can obtain a license only if it has a certain number of trophy animals on its territory at the end of the year.  For example, if there are three trophy males in the community this year, then the community is given a license for one. But if next year there are six trophy males, they will get two licenses. The greater the increase in animals, the more licenses are issued, the more likely it is that hunters will arrive and that they will bring money to the region.


Sulaiman Mountains. Photo courtesy of A. D'oro

Hunters are only interested in old males who have the largest horns. These are animals about the age of 9-10 years. If an animal is under nine years old, it will not be accepted in hunting clubs. By this age, since they live from 10 to 15 years, the trophy male has repeatedly passed on its genes and is, in fact, useless to the population. It no longer participates in the reproduction of the species, but it eats up the already meager food base. At best, it will become the prey of a predator, at worst, it will die a natural death. Therefore, saling a license for it for tens of thousands of dollars, which will benefit both the animal species and the local population, is perhaps one of the best possible scenarios.

Thanks to the second model of the Torghar project, it was possible not only to preserve the Suleiman markhor, the Afghan urial and the snow leopard (trophy hunting for snow leopards is not allowed), but also to increase the number of their populations.

The markhor population has tripled, the urial population, which was initially larger, has doubled. A license for a markhor costs three times more than for an Afghan urial.

In 2008, the Torghar Program received the most prestigious hunting award in the field of wildlife conservation, the Markhor Award, for the success in preserving these species in Balochistan and the Sulaiman Mountains. In 2008 the Torghar model was adopted by hunters of Tajikistan. Thanks to this model, they were able to preserve and multiply the Bukhara markhor and urial populations in Tajikistan, as well as restore the snow leopard population. It is worth noting that the snow leopard conservation organizations were the catalyst of these projects. It was thanks to these organizations that it became possible to achieve such great results.

Thus, the example of Pakistan and Tajikistan shows that the model of nature conservation through trophy hunting with funding from local communities helps to preserve the species of animals as much as possible, completely eradicates poaching as a phenomenon and increases the species population. Projects like that exist not only in Tajikistan and Pakistan, there are many countries that use similar models.


Alexander D'oro and the residents of the Torghar community. Photo courtesy of A. D'oro

“While visiting the Torghar community, we spent several days in the Sulaiman Mountains observing the populations of markhors and urials. We saw several herds of markhors, and in each herd there were five to seven adult trophy males. This suggests that they are being monitored and that the population is recovering. In two days we observed a lot of herds of urials, about ten trophy males. This is a very good indicator. We have indeed seen the benefits of this project, how the community has developed thanks to the wildlife conservation program. They've built themselves proper houses instead of tents, made water tanks, built roads. Children and women can recieve education now, medicine is now available. Thanks to this project, the bloodshed between tribes that used to fight for territories stopped. Now there are about 600 people in the community, all of them live in peace, raise livestock, grow crops, organize hunting and preserve nature,” Alexander D'oro notes.

Based on Alexander D'oro's materials