Easy Game: Armenian conservationists alarmed by continued poaching of Red Book species

Environmentalists in Armenia are concerned over the continuing poaching of animals that must be protected by the State.

Meanwhile, those in charge of the sphere give assurances that poaching cases in the country have been decreasing from year to year. They also say that Armenia remains committed to protecting animals that are in the Red Book of endangered species.

In an interview with ArmeniaNow, Aram Aghasyan, head of the Department of Preserves of the Environment Ministry’s Bioresources Management Agency, said that cases of poaching in reserves are “few and far between”. He explained it by the fact that measures have been taken in recent years to enhance the protection regime in such areas, including the recruitment of more personnel, provision of vehicles, fuel is provided, the territories are fitted out with modern guard equipment, etc..

But environmentalists still insist that unlike in reserves in national parks and reservations poaching cases occur more frequently. And in areas that are not specially protected it is easier to catch animals whose hunting is prohibited. Every month the Environment Ministry publishes the results of the State Environmental Inspection’s checkups that on the average record 5-6 cases of illegal hunting a month. Most of them are connected with the poaching of fish and crab. According to the data for the first six months of this year, 71 violations were revealed (79 during the same period of 2010).

Quite recently, near the town of Kapan in Armenia’s southern Syunik province two Bezoar goats (ibex) were killed. Police arrested three persons suspected of poaching and killing the animals that are included in the Red Book. One of the three confessed to killing the goats with an illegally kept rifle. According to a police statement, damage of about 6 million drams (some $16,000) had been caused to the state.

The fine for hunting the Bezoar goat and Armenian mouflon (sheep) that are entered into the Red Data Book of Armenia is 3 million drams (about $8,000) and for hunting the Caucasian gray bear is 1 million drams (about $2,700). The amount of the fine is increased fivefold if the poaching is committed in specially protected areas.

Armenia’s official hunting season begins on August 27 and ends on February 27. Every year the Ministry of Environmental Protection publishes a list of animals that may be hunted by hunters who purchase state licenses. And among the allowed game are quail, pigeons, partridges, snipes, larks, starlings, thrushes, gray crows and magpies, swimming birds, foxes, wild boars and hares.

Environmental sector officials say poaching decreases during the period of hunting.

Speaking about poaching, environmentalists first point out Lake Sevan’s condition. Leading environmentalist Karine Danielyan says the lake has become “fishless” because of years of unsparing fishing and poaching.

“And it is not only the matter of fish, the absence of fish resulted in the decline of the quality of the lake’s water, and the lake is swamping,” said the environmentalist. “We have the same problem with our forests. Why do wolves attack residential areas? First because the forest and wood areas have shrunk and secondly because their food base has reduced. Eventually, hunger drives the beast into places populated by man. The ecosystem’s food chain has been disturbed. This phenomenon should be a wake-up call for us.”

Ecolur environmental organization head Inga Zarafyan stresses that instead of ordinary poachers those who use the results of this poaching must be punished in the first place. The environmentalist says a number of restaurants in their menus offer meat of animals whose hunting is forbidden.