MARCO POLO SHEEP (Ovis ammon polii) HUNTING
Marco Polo Sheep Hunting in Kyrgyzstan.
Few big game animals capture the imagination of the hunter like mountain sheep. Of the many sheep species recognized worldwide, one Asian sub-species found in Asia’s Pamir Mountains is the most captivating. First described scientifically by zoologist Edward Blyth in 1841, the species was named after the the13th Century Venetian adventurer Marco Polo, who described the sheep in his book “The Travels of Marco Polo”. These Asian sheep are universally referred to “argali” – a term which encompasses all of the various sub-species of Ovis ammon that inhabit the highlands of central Asia.
Most Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii) occur in the mountainous region adjacent to the borders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and China at elevations ranging from 3,700 to 4,800 m (12,100 to 15,700 ft) above sea level. These sheep share much of their habitat with animals such as the Siberian ibex (also known as Mid-Asian ibex), which are also a popular big game species in their own right.
These sheep are highly prized by sportsmen for their long spiraling horns, which can attain lengths of up to 178 cm (70 inches), although horns of this length are the exception, not the rule. Today, hunting for Ovis ammon polii occurs primarily in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and is subject to strict annual quotas established by each country in conjunction with sustainable harvest allowances approved by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). As a result of these strict quotas, the desirability of the species from a sporting perspective, and the remote locations where hunting is allowed, we have seen prices spiraling ever upward over the last decade.
As stated above, both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan offer government-approved hunting opportunities for these sheep, with rams taken in Tajikistan representing the largest Ovis ammon polii trophies taken – with most legally-harvested rams ranging from 140 to 165 cm (55 to 65 inches). Larger rams have been taken in Tajikistan with at least two rams over the magical 178 cm (70 inch) mark having been taken in the last year or so. The sheep found in Kyrgyzstan (south of the Naryn River) are smaller than their Tajik counterparts, with most rams averaging between 112 and 132 cm (44 to 52 inch) range. There are larger sheep in Kyrgyzstan with sheep in the 155 cm (55 inch) range taken on occasion. Again, this is the exception, not the rule. It is not known why the sheep in Kyrgyzstan are generally smaller than their Tajik cousins – several of the conservation organizations including GSC/Ovis (Grand Slam Club/Ovis) have classified these sheep as a sub-species known as Ovis ammon humei or Hume argali for record-keeping purposes. Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not recognize this classification for import purposes (sheep harvested south of the Naryn River are classified as Ovis ammon polii by the U.S. for import purposes) and to date there has not been universal agreement in the scientific community on the O. ammon humei classification.
Early in the season, the sheep (and ibex) can be expected at the higher elevations, migrating down to the lower elevations later in the season. The Marco Polo rut generally occurs in mid-December. Hunting seasons typically run from late summer through mid-winter in both countries, with the best hunting conditions to be found in late fall/early winter. The Kyrgyz season generally runs from August 15 through December 15, closes for the rut and then re-opens on January 1 running to the end of February. In Tajikistan, the season runs from September through March. Temperatures will be milder early in the season and will get progressively colder later in the season, with sub-zero temperatures possible in January and February. Normal daytime temperatures in November will range between 0 to 10°C (30 to 50°F), with night time temperatures ranging from -15 to -10°C (5 to 14°F).
Hunting methods vary dramatically between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with most of the hunting in Tajikistan done from vehicles equipped with over-sized tires to accommodate over-the-snow travel while the Kyrgyz operators utilize horses to reach the hunting area from camp. The Tajik method is to drive slowly and spot for sheep. Once a suitable ram is located, the vehicle is parked and a stalk on foot ensues until such time as the hunter is in range for a shot. The use of horses in Kyrgyzstan allows the hunter to access a much wider and diverse range of country in the pursuit of both sheep and ibex. The horses also eliminate some of the physical exertion required in the stalk by allowing the party to get closer to the animals. In either case, the ultimate success of the hunt will depend on the physical condition of the hunter and his/her ability to consistently make long shots.
From a pricing standpoint, Marco Polo hunts in Tajikistan are currently averaging in the high $30,000 price range, with hunts in Kyrgyzstan averaging about $10,000 cheaper than Tajikistan. Trophy fees for ibex (where available) will increase the price of the hunt by an average of $4,000. Ibex in Kyrgyzstan will average between 96 and 111 cm (38 to 44 inches), with larger ibex possible.
Global Sporting Safaris is currently planning a 10 day hosted hunt in Kyrgyzstan for Marco Polo sheep and ibex in November of 2013. Our inaugural trip will be the first group in years to hunt these sheep in this outfitter’s exclusive hunting area. Hunters can expect to see many rams over the course of the hunt and we anticipate 100% opportunity on mature rams in the 44 to 54 inch class. Considering that these sheep have not been hunted very hard for quite some time, there is the potential for some really good rams – particularly on this first hunt. We will take no more than three hunters on this initial hunt and the hunters will be accompanied by a representative of GSS who will be hunting as well. There is the possibility for a second hosted hunt to be scheduled in either 2013 or 2014 based on interest. We have priced this hunt at a remarkable $21,250, which is between $5,000 and $8,000 less than comparable hunts on the market today. Mid-Asian ibex may be combined with sheep for an additional trophy fee of $3,000. Travel to Kyrgyzstan will be accomplished via Turkish Airlines to Istanbul and thence on to Bishkek. The party will be met in Bishkek by the outfitter and after a 14 hour drive we will arrive in camp. We expect that most hunters will harvest their ram in 5 days, but we are providing amole time for those who wish to hold out for a bigger ram or wish to add ibex to their hunt.
Please contact Bob Anderson/Global Sporting Safaris today for more Marco Polo Sheep Hunting details on this very limited opportunity: email@example.com.