Hunting for a Solution:Tozhu Wild Animal Resources Threatened by Poaching and Industrial Development


In early March 2000 the two-family herding camp of Viktor Sambuu and Roman Baraan boiled their final scraps of sinewy reindeer meat. The reindeer’s untimely slaughter, forced by a cracked vertebra, was a mixed blessing: The camp desperately needed the meat, but the Tozhu people of the Tozhu District in the northeastern Republic of Tyva were loath to slaughter one, even times of dire need.

Six weeks passed before the eight people in the camp ate meat again, despite Viktor’s hunting prowess, almost daily forays into the nearby forests, and several extended strenuous hunting trips through deep snow into the high taiga. Wild game animals, the most desirous of which would have been elk, moose, or deer, were simply not to be found. Even tracks were a rare sight. It wasn’t until April 15, when Viktor, who goes by the nickname Piko, walked into camp with a large male kara kush (a type of wood grouse), that the camp ate meat again. For six weeks, they had lived on a diet of kakbak (a heavy, soda-leavened baked bread), dalgan (round, flat, deep-fried bread), and macaroni.

Wild animals are the principal subsistence resource for the Tozhu reindeer herders; fur-bearing animals, principally sable and squirrel, are the major income source. Yet the wild animal resource base is being rapidly depleted by over-hunting by poachers, legal hunters, and the Tozhu themselves, and also by loss of habitat due to gold mining and timber operations. To address these threats, the Tozhu people must gain greater control over their lands and the resources on those lands. They need guarantees that they will be able to continue hunting for subsistence purposes, legal protection of their territories from further industrial development and privatization, the legal means to exclude non-Tozhu people from hunting within the Tozhu District, and credible assurances that such legal means will be enforced.
The Gray Market in Animal Parts

Gray market activity primarily takes place in and around two open-air markets in the center of Kyzyl, the capital of Tyva. Signs offering to buy animal parts abound: large clapboard sandwich signs line streets, smaller ones hang in kiosk windows, and people walk around with signs hanging around their necks. They want to change money, buy gold, and buy animal parts, including bear gall bladders, elk antlers in velvet, elk genitalia, and musk glands from musk deer. In the evening, banners run across the bottom of television screens giving addresses and phone numbers for places were people can sell the parts. Most of the animal parts will eventually end up in China or Korea to be used in remedies for ailments ranging from sore throats to anemia to menopause-related symptoms to impotency.

The activity in Kyzyl is called “gray market” because it mixes legal and illegal actions. For example, buying and selling animal parts it is not necessarily illegal, as long as the seller has a license for each animal killed, the buyer likewise has a license to buy and sell these parts, and the transaction is officially recorded for tax and other purposes. Yet these conditions rarely prevail, and authorities do not make a sincere effort to prosecute violators. In fact, the law only prosecutes hunters at the point of killing the animal, not at the point of selling the parts to ubiquitous middlemen, who, even if licensed, are not required to check the suppliers’ hunting licenses. The chances of a poacher being caught in the act of killing an animal are slim. The demand for these items is virtually unlimited, and the potential profits too great a temptation to resist.

One young middleman sporting a sign around his neck explained that even though he had no license to traffic in gold, money, or animal parts and therefore was breaking the law, he had never been hassled by officials. For a good musk gland or bear gall bladder, he said he would pay up to 4,000 rubles ($130)—about three times an average monthly salary for those lucky few who have a regular job. He could then sell the part to Chinese or Korean merchants for about 5,000 rubles ($170).

The manager of a publicly advertised shop that buys and sells animals parts gave all the correct answers: He had a license to do business, he kept receipts of all transactions for tax purposes, and he did not buy anything illegal. Yet in summer 2002, two hunters of my own personal acquaintance said they had sold elk antlers in velvet—a sale that had been declared illegal that summer—at the shop.

An official at the Hunting Directorate for the Republic of Tyva, the governmental agency entrusted with the task of monitoring wild animal populations, estimated that the illegal take (killing) of sable was probably at least three times as great as the legal take; for elk, he estimated that illegal take was at least 700—two and a half times the legal take—out of an estimated total population of about 5,000. In 2001, the musk deer population was considered so low that no licenses were granted, yet some 18,000 males were killed for their musk glands.

The Hunting Directorate official noted that the agency hasn’t been able to make an accurate count of wild animals since the mid-1980s. It lacks the necessary resources, and a number of incentives exist for the agency to overstate the wild animal populations. Thus the Tozhu people themselves have very little accurate information on the wild animal populations beyond their personal experience, which varies greatly. Some Tozhu complain that they are having more difficulty finding wild animals to hunt. Others claim that the animals are out there, and people just have to know where to find them. The Tozhu, who historically hunted principally for subsistence and had elaborate cultural proscriptions against over-hunting,1 now find poachers hunting wild animals right out from under them. Many Tozhu hunters, particularly those who are younger, are now illegally over-hunting animals just to make sure they get their share before all the animals are gone. The over-hunting problem is further aggravated because Tozhu hunters tend to deny that their own personal actions play a part in the decline in animal populations, while non-Tozhu poachers deny animal populations are declining at all.

Monitoring and enforcement of sanctions against illegal hunting pose more problems. Within the boundaries of the 330,000 hectare Azas Zapovednik, human activity is prohibited outside of scientific purposes. In theory, the zapovednik (nature preserve) could serve as a protected breeding ground for various wild animals and therefore as “storage” for wild animal resources. The structure of the monitoring system, however, has perverse incentives. Employees of the zapovednik, including rangers, can harvest natural resources (berries, pine nuts, mushrooms, medicinal plants, and wild animals) from zapovednik lands for subsistence purposes, while everyone else is prohibited from entering the preserve. Most of these employees go well beyond subsistence and sell or give away much of what they harvest. Such activities are considered a perk of the job and a necessary supplement to the meager salary (about $30 per month). Furthermore, the rangers, who are mostly local men, are culturally bound to allow friends and relatives to enter the preserve and hunt. People without such easy access to the resources resent these abuses and are more likely to disregard hunting regulations.
Gold, Timber, and Tourists

Compounding the decline in wild animals are other pressures arising from the Tozhu District’s rich supply of gold and timber. Gold has long been mined along the Kharaal and Oina rivers in the southern part of the district. The river-scouring method destroys fish habitats, and the noise of the mining operations and the camp chase wild animals away. In addition, many of the 150 to 200 miners (all non-Tozhu) hunt and fish illegally throughout the mining season (March through October). One of the two camps currently in operation has tried to lay claim to a particularly productive tract of hunting grounds and to exclude the Tozhu reindeer herders from hunting on that tract, while a new road from Kyzyl to the gold-mining bases has increased access to the Tozhu taiga not only for those involved in gold mining, but also for sport hunters from the capital and other parts of Tyva, most without hunting licenses. Recent developments indicate that gold-mining activities will intensify and expand to rivers in other parts of the Tozhu District, with the same pressures on wild animal and fish resources. In 2002, the Ministry of Natural Resources granted permission for the construction of a third gold mine in the Tozhu District, along the heretofore untouched upper reaches of the Bedii River, which serves as the lifeline for one group of reindeer herders and leads directly into the fish-rich Kham-Syra River.

In July 2002, the Tyva government announced a project to improve water transportation on the upper Yenisei River specifically to exploit timber resources. The Tozhu District is the most heavily forested region of Tyva, and the Bii Khem River, one of two large rivers that join to form the Yenisei, runs through the southern part of the Tozhu District, while the Kham Syra River, a large tributary of the Bii Khem, runs through the northern part.2 Forests in the vicinity of these rivers will likely be the first to be exploited for timber.

Hunting tourism presents yet another threat. Stored in the left-luggage facility in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in September 2001 were 12 enormous racks of moose antlers, each rack spanning at least five feet, and each individual antler as broad as an armchair. The attendant explained that they belonged to German tourists, and while not necessarily from Tyva, the attendant said they came from southern Siberia. While hunting tourism in the Tozhu region is not yet developed, it is developed in other parts of Tyva, and it’s only a matter of time before it reaches Tozhu. Several tour operators (and even employees of the Hunting Directorate and other governmental agencies entrusted with protecting the wild animal populations) have asked me, as an American, to find foreign tourists interested in hunting. They have also asked me to help make arrangements with reindeer-herding Tozhu people to serve as guides and hosts for foreign hunters. Such arrangements seldom benefit the local people, and more often serve to disrupt their lifestyles and negatively affect their resource base.

While gold mining, timber extraction, and tourism are presently conducted on land that officially belongs to the state and therefore can co-exist to some degree with the reindeer-herding and hunting activities of the Tozhu people, the threats they present have suddenly become more imminent with the Russian government’s passage of the new Land Codex legalizing the privatization of land.3 In practice, small-scale buying and selling of land has occurred since the early 1990s, mostly in and around urban areas. But the passage of the Land Codex provides the means for wholesale privatization of enormous tracts of land throughout Russia.

The Tozhu reindeer herders and hunters are at particular risk under this law. They operate in a virtually non-cash economy, and would not be able to afford to purchase the extensive tracts of land necessary for their seasonal migration, which is crucial to reindeer husbandry and effective exploitation of wild animal resources. They would also be prevented from hunting and grazing their herds on newly privatized land.

In 1996, four reindeer-herding obshchinas were established in the Tozhu District, covering nearly half of the district.4 These lands offered a degree of security to the Tozhu reindeer herders’ land tenure under the 2000 obshchinas law.5 In 2001 these Tozhu obshchinas were unilaterally closed down by the state,6 and consolidated into a Unified State Enterprise (Gosudarstvennoe Unitarnoe Predpriatno, GUP). The GUP resembles a sovkhoz (state farm) in that the physical assets all belong to the state, which is supposed to pay the herders and hunters a salary. The critical difference between the GUP and Tozhu obshchinas is in the amount of protected land. The GUP has legal control over 26,132 hectares (261 square kilometers), compared to between 1.5 million and 2 million hectares formerly included in the four obshchinas. As Kyzyl-ool Sangy-Badra, president of the Tozhu branch of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), pointed out, the transformation from obshchinas to GUP will make it easier for formerly protected obshchina lands to be sold from under the indigenous peoples of the Tozhu District. For now, the Tozhu reindeer herders freely range over all the land once covered by obshchinas, but without secure legal rights or tenure. Under the Land Codex people living in the Tozhu District have limited legal control over less than one percent of the total area of the district, while some 90 percent is eligible for sale.
The Legal Framework

The question remains whether anything can be done to stem the seemingly relentless tide of these developments. At the constitutional level there is some cause for optimism. In the past few years, several major framework laws have been passed to clarify the legal status of the indigenous peoples of Russia and provide them with a legal basis for asserting their rights (see page 12 this issue). Now that the Tozhu have been designated as one of the Small-Numbered Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation, these laws may provide a basis for reindeer herders to gain some control over the management of their resources. For example, the law On Territories of Traditional Natural Resource Use could be used as a mechanism to have indigenous peoples’ land declared specially protected natural territories. Such a designation could give exclusive inalienable rights of access to indigenous people and make the designated lands eligible for federal protection.

Yet even with this new legal framework in place, numerous obstacles still challenge the protection of indigenous peoples’ lands. In the first place, these new laws are very general, and the actual details of how they are implemented tend to get hammered out at the regional level. They are not always interpreted in the same way or evenly enforced, especially when politically and economically powerful stakeholders benefit from manipulating or ignoring them. In the Tozhu case, for example, Kyzyl-ool Sangy-Badra explained that a republic-level law had to be written in order to activate federal-level laws within the Tyva Republic. He had written such a law and submitted it to the necessary legislative bodies, but had received no response. He said that those in power in the Tyvan government and other political stakeholders do not want to recognize the rights of the Tozhu because the resources are too valuable to lose. In addition, the court system in Russia is weak and ineffectual as a means for indigenous peoples to assert their rights. Finally, the government’s commitment is questionable and the vague wording of the laws provides no enforcement mechanisms for indigenous peoples in the event the government does not show good-faith efforts at protecting the lands and lifestyles of the indigenous peoples.

The Tozhu also lack effective representation. They consider themselves and are generally considered by others in Tyva and Russia as a subgroup of the Tyva people. For the Tozhu to assert their rights as a distinct ethnic minority would likely meet with resentment from the majority Tyva people. In any case, no well-educated Tozhu intelligentsia to represent their interests to government officials in Kyzyl and Moscow. At the republic level, none of the administration assigned to deal with Tozhu issues is ethnic Tozhu. At the federal level, the failure to distinguish between Tozhu and Tyva has led to even greater problems of representation. The officially recognized representative of the Tozhu people to RAIPON is not ethnic Tozhu. Another non-Tozhu Tyva man managed to convince federal government officials in the late 1990s that he was the representative of all the obshchinas in the Tozhu region. The Tozhu people openly acknowledged that that they did not recognize him as their representative, yet he was entrusted with funds specifically earmarked for the reindeer-herding Tozhu. The Tozhu have not seen any concrete benefits from these funds.

Even if the Tozhu could use the new laws to garner more direct control over their resources, their lack of leadership would hinder their efforts. This problem reveals itself at the local level in the apparent apathy bred from long years of central planning and dependence on the government. The Tozhu lack information, their communications infrastructure has broken down, and they are at the bottom of the social ladder and are intimidated by bureaucratic processes and officials. Despite the government’s spectacular failure in recent years, people in the region have a deeply entrenched sense that the work of governance requires special training and education, and that only those in government (or government institutions such as the university) have the necessary training, education, and access to resources to organize, administer, and manage the social and economic activities of the community.

Yet another obstacle the Tozhu people face in protecting their natural resources, including wild animals, is their attitude toward property. In pre-Soviet times, when virtually all Tozhu people were nomadic herders and hunters, land was not exclusively owned by anyone (although recognized clan territories existed), and wild animals were not considered anyone’s exclusive property. Today the salient feature among the Tozhu with regards to rights of access to resources is non-exclusivity. The traditional “law of the taiga” requires helping out guests and visitors—even total strangers. On more than one occasion I have heard Tozhu people say, “No one owns the taiga. Whoever wants to can come and get what they can.”

While such generosity and hospitality are admirable cultural values, they violate the first “design principle” for effective and durable common pool resource (CPR) institutions as outlined by political scientists Michael McGinnis and Elinor Ostrom: “Individuals or households who have rights to withdraw resource units from the CPR must be clearly defined, as must the boundaries of the CPR itself.” Without such boundaries, common pool resources such as wild game animals and fish cannot be effectively managed to the advantage of the local indigenous population.
Future Measures

If the Tozhu and other south-Siberian reindeer-herding peoples are to stand any chance of genuine cultural survival, they must gain greater control over their lands and the natural resources on those lands, and be allowed to design and implement their own institutions of self-governance. The following recommendations may be the first steps toward that end:
The indigenous reindeer-herding peoples must find a way to make the recent constitutional changes translate into real opportunities and protections at the local level. The first and most important step along these lines would be to immediately use the new federal laws to establish secure land tenure and exclusive access to resources.
The herder-hunters must establish some boundary rules defining who has rights to hunt, fish, and extract other natural resources; they must effectively monitor and enforce those rules.
Government officials must demonstrate more genuine and sincere efforts to enforce hunting restrictions and crack down on the illegal trade in animal parts. They must pursue and prosecute violators at every stage of the process, from the point of killing the animal to the final sale in Russia of animal parts to agents who will ultimately take the parts to foreign destinations.
International development programs and NGOs in collaboration with Tozhu herder-hunters must improve communication and information networks. Each herding and hunting camp should at least be equipped with a two-way radio so that the herders can maintain contact with one another and exchange important information.
The Tozhu people, in collaboration with education experts, should create education and training programs for Tozhu communities. These programs should provide the technical skills necessary for the Tozhu to effectively manage their resources and develop a self-governing, self-sufficient, sustainable economy; to build leadership capacity; and to learn how to effectively represent the Tozhu people at the republic and federal levels.

Of course, granting greater control over economic resources has its own share of problems and conflicts. In the first place, the question of “Who’s indigenous here anyway?” will always be present, and with it the question of who should have rights of access to resources. Then there is the possibility that a particular group of indigenous people, once given control of resources on territory that has been officially recognized as theirs, will engage in (or consent to) wholesale extraction of those resources without regard for the long-term sustainability of the natural resource base or the environmental consequences. After all, indigenous peoples too have to compete in the global marketplace to survive economically, and indigenous peoples can also mismanage natural resources. But the Tozhu should at least be allowed to make these decisions for themselves, rather than be forced to stand idly by while outsiders do the mismanaging.
1. Such proscriptions warn against shooting pregnant females or those with young, shooting white animals or those with white markings, hunting in certain sacred areas, and killing more than the hunter needs.
2. Khomushku, A. (2002, July-August). Vodnyi Put’: Lyod Tronulcya (Water Way: The Ice Has Begun To Break). Tsentr Azii (Kyzyl weekly newspaper). p 2. Kyzyl, Tyva.
3. Zemel’nyi Kodeks (Land Code of the Russian Federation ). (2001, October 25).
4. The Tozhu District is 4,475,749 hectares (44,757 square kilometers), the largest of 16 districts in Tyva (26 percent of Tyva’s territory).
5. On the General Principles of Organization of Clan Communes (Obshchiny) of the Indigneous Small-Numbered Peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East of the Russian Federation. (2000, June 20).
6. The obshschinas were closed without consulting the president of the Tozhu branch of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North. In fact, for all intents and purposes, all had already collapsed and only existed on paper.
Brian Donahoe is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Indiana University. In Tyva he is affiliated with the Institute for Humanitarian Studies in Kyzyl. This research was conducted in part under the direction of the Altai-Sayan Language and Ethnography Project, funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung.
References and further reading
Donahoe, B. (2002). “Hey, You! Get Offa My Taiga!” Comparing the Sense of Property Rights Among the Tofa and Tozhu-Tyva. Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Paper Series #38.
McGinnis, M. and Ostrom, E. (1992). Institutional Analysis and Global Climate Change: Design Principles for Robust International Regimes. In Global Climate Change: Social and Economic Research Issues. Rice, M., Snow, J., & Jacobson, H., Eds. Chicago: Midwest Consortium for International Security Studies and Argonne National Laboratory. Pp 45-85.
Vainshtein, S.I. (1980 [1972]). Nomads of South Siberia: The Pastoral Economies of Tuva. Humphrey, C., Ed.; Colenso, M., Tr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Vainshtein, S.I. (1961). Tuvintsy-Todzhintsy (The Tozhu-Tuvans). Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Vostochnoj Literatury.

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