Other booking agents, such as Safari Outfitters, soon got in on the act, and before long 300 to 400 elk hunters a year were going to Mongolia. Over the years, the price gradually crept up, first to $3,500 then to $4,200 and so on, but the hunt was still a bargain. Then in 1995 a series of forest fires ravaged much of the best elk habitat in the country. It apparently didn't kill many elk, but it did force massive relocations of elk away from their traditional habitat, farther north and west and, in general, farther away from Ulanbataar and into more remote, inaccessible areas.
As if all that were not enough, about that time Mongolia was undergoing a radical privatization of its economy, which meant that the social and economic safety nets of the comfortable old Communist days were yanked out from under the population. They suddenly had to go cold turkey without guaranteed government jobs and the other perquisites and benefits of socialism. Many thousands of people were thrown out of work. This resulted in an upsurge in crime, particularly crimes against property.
One of the manifestations of this upsurge in crime was elk poaching. There was a ready market for elk antlers, the velvet of elk antlers and elk testicles in neighboring China, and there was a wide-open border. Even where poachers used official border crossings there was collusion among Mongolian and Chinese customs officials to let these elk parts........(continued)