If you plan to book a Marco Polo hunt this year, be prepared to pay upwards of $35,000. A number of factors have converged to jack up the price of this hunt, but it basically comes down to a matter of supply and demand. More than 100 American hunters applied for 55 US Fish & Wildlife Service import permits last year, and the same number applied this year for 60 available permits. Usually, those hunters would be split between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for permits. But because Kyrgyzstan failed to get its conservation information to US F&WS last year, Americans were restricted to hunting Tajikistan, effectively cutting the pool of available permits by about 50 percent. Add increased fuel and operating costs and the weakening US Dollar to rumors that the Tajikistan government may cut the number of permits issued and raise the price of permits, and you have the perfect recipe for inflated prices. It is also worth noting that these hunts may be booked by many companies, but there are only two major outfitters in Tajikistan, and one of them controls 80 percent of the licenses.
What would break the stranglehold of monopoly here is the renewed availability of Marco Polo hunting in Kyrgyzstan. And the chances of that happening in 2007 are quite good, according to one source we spoke with. He told us the population surveys have been completed and are being formatted to fit US F&WS requirements. Our source was very confident the information would be at USF&WS offices by the May 31 deadline. A sure sign of the Kyrgyz commitment to this, we're told, is that the ministry paid for the surveys itself rather than relying on conservation organizations and operators to foot the bill as usual.
To be sure, even if they do make the deadline, there's a possibility that USF&WS will find fault with the information and, worse scenario, reject it outright or request further information, which the Kyrgyz may or may not have available. Word is the surveys will indicate 20,000 Marco Polo sheep exist in Kyrgyz- stan, as opposed to........(continued)