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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently found that the importation of argali sheep hunted in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Mongolia in 2015 would enhance the survival of the species in each country. Enhancement findings are annually required for argali before import permits are issued.
A positive enhancement finding essentially means that U.S. hunters participating in the limited hunting of argali in Tajikistan, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan are helping argali populations. The revenue generated from hunting an individual sheep is applied to the conservation and management of the entire species. This revenue also benefits the livelihoods of local people by supporting infrastructure and jobs. But the change in attitudes of local people may be most important – when hunting creates a high value for sheep, people choose to conserve them and not harvest them for meat or convert their habitat into agricultural lands.
Reliable science-based information is crucial to making a positive enhancement finding. The FWS relies on current information on population status and numbers from the range state governments and scientists. Surveys completed by SCI Foundation in Tajikistan and Mongolia show that argali populations are large, healthy, stable, and resilient to the point of maintaining a sustainable harvest.
More importantly SCI Foundation and our partners, like the Wild Sheep Foundation, provide current science and work directly with the governments of Tajikistan, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan to help facilitate the exchange of information. Positive working relationships with these governments ensure that the importation of argali remains possible. Without conservation organizations producing current science, the FWS would likely not have enough evidence to justify a positive enhancement finding.
The next task is to encourage and improve pro-active communication between the governments and ensure there never is a time that science-based information is unavailable to the FWS. Cooperation and positive relationships with governments and other NGOs make this possible.