Uzbekistan: A New Destination on Map

Mountains of Uzbekistan is proud to announce the addition of a new destination – Uzbekistan. The country may not be your first association with “mountain hunting”, but with unique endemic species and a set of conditions that ensures great trophies, it has to be on every hardcore mountain hunter’s bucket list.

Uzbekistan is usually described as “a former Soviet Republic of”, but the country has a rich and diverse history that goes way beyond the Communist experiment. Civilization appeared in Transoxania, the fertile valley between the rivers of Amu Darya and Syr Daria, at least 2,500 years ago. Alexander the Great’s phalanxes and the ellinic kingdom of Bactria, prosperous cities on the Great Silk Road and hordes of Genghis Khan, the Great Game between the Russian and the British Empires for domination over Central Asia, the green banner of Islam and the red banner of Communism – all left their still visible marks on the soil of Uzbekistan. 

A trophy of Bukhara MarkhorMost of the attention of ancient conquerors and modern scientists is focused on the alluvial valleys that, with proper irrigation, can produce fabulous harvests of various crops. You may have heard about the cotton industry that flourished in the valleys of Amu Darya and Syr Darya after the Russian Empire, and then the Soviet Union, established their control over Central Asia – and the environmental and human rights issues that arose as the result. However, Uzbekistan has a large territory that features a variety of landscapes, with the valleys comprising only about 10% of the area. The rest is occupied by deserts, desert plateaus, and mountains.  

The highest mountains of Uzbekistan are located in the Hissar range in the south-east of the country. The Hissar range is a part of the Pamir-Alay mountain system, and is shared between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Uzbekistan part of the mountains is not quite as high as the “Roof of the World” part of the High Pamirs, but they still reach out to 4,000+ meters above the sea level. In these mountains Uzbekistan outfitters will offer you hunting for Urial and Bukhara Markhor. The hunting and local culture in the area is simple to the other parts of the Pamirs, and you may find extra information in our blog posts about hunting in Tajikistan. 

The people of Uzbekistan have always placed a high value on learning. Even in the Middle Ages, Islamic scholars of Bukhara and Samarkand would’ve put the most learned men of Christian Europe to shame. For just one example, you and I owe the fact that I am writing and you are reading this text to one Muhammad ibn Musa al Khwarizmi, whose work lay the foundation of modern algebra, and whose name became the word “algorithm”. “Al Khwarizmi”, incidentally, means “a native of Khwarezm”, as the territory of modern Uzbekistan was known in the day.  

These days, mountain game hunting in Uzbekistan is carried out under strict control, not only by the relevant government bodies, but also the Uzbekistan Academy of Science. The scientists make sure hunting is sustainable, and harvest quotas are re-evaluated each year.  established every year, and everything is done to make sure that hunting is sustainable. The number of permits issued are very limited. Only 4 permits for hunting Severtsov’s Argali, for example, are issued each year. 

13_severtsovs_argali (1).jpgSevertsov’s Argali is a unique subspecies of Argali, not unlike North American Bighorn in habitat and ecology. It was once considered a form of Urial, until genetic analysis confirmed its origin as Argali; some scientists still hold that Severtsov’s Argali is a natural cross between Urial and Marco Polo. Originally, Severtsov’s Argali inhabited the desert plateaus all over Central Asia, but today almost all population is found on the territory of Uzbekistan, and it is the only country where trophy hunting for this kind of wild sheep is legal.  

To hunt Severtsov’s Argali in Uzbekistan, you will have to travel to a different location than for Bukhara Markhor and Urial. The hunting grounds for Severtsov’s Argali are located in the Nuratau mountain range in the center of the country, to the north of Lake Aydarkul. Most hunters who went after this wild sheep after the hunting reopened in 2012 report a great level of satisfaction. The prominent Russian trophy hunter Sergei Yastrzhembsky, for example, says he found a 12-year-old ram on Day 1 of the hunt. 

Uzbekistan is not the world’s richest country in the first place, and mountainous regions of the country are economically depressed even by local standards. The population survives by sheep herding, scavenging whatever they can find in local forests (such as wild walnut), and illegal hunting. Poachers mostly target females and immature animals, not in the least because mature rams are out of reach of their shotguns (hunters in Uzbekistan aren’t allowed to own rifles). Thus, while the population may be oppressed, it features a good quantity of trophy rams. From the environmental perspective, everyone would benefit from legal and regulated trophy hunting – if done in a sustainable way that benefits local communities. One mature ram, that is out of reproductive range, can pay for not killing a small herd of females with the young. 

This dark heritage of colonialism, conquests and despotism is hard to overcome, but Uzbekistan is making progress towards democracy and modernization. It’s a perfectly safe country to visit, and offers numerous attractions for a tourist. If you visit Uzbekistan, do not miss a chance to visit its historic sites. High-speed trains connect Tashkent, the national capital, with Samarkand, and in that and other places of interest there are competent guides fluent in English and other major international languages who will ensure an unforgettable, educative and thought-provoking experience that will add another dimension to your hunt. 

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