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Helicopter Hunting a Favorite With Elite Poachers

Published: January 27, 2009 (Issue # 1443)



  • A game warden examining a hunters license in Primorye in the Far East.?
    Photo: Vladimir Filonov / The St. Petersburg Times

  • The Mi-171 helicopter that crashed Jan. 9, killing several state officials.
    Photo: altapress.ru

MOSCOW When a helicopter carrying senior government officials crashed into a remote Altai mountainside earlier this month, killing several passengers, the accident appeared to be nothing more than a tragic loss of life.

But photographs snapped at the crash site have thrown a spotlight on what conservationists say is a disturbingly popular pastime among the countrys political and business elite: the expensive sport of poaching from helicopters.

One photograph published on an Altai region web site shows the carcasses of endangered argali sheep among the wreckage of the Mi-171 helicopter that crashed Jan. 9. One of the sheep has a knife sticking out of its haunches.

The wild sheep is one of Russias rarest animals, and hunting it is punishable by up to two years in prison. The photograph prompted ecologists to press prosecutors to investigate whether the officials were hunting illegally when their helicopter went down.

Among the seven federal, regional and local officials killed in the crash was Viktor Kaimin, the Altai republics top official charged with protecting the regions wildlife and whose committee was responsible for issuing hunting licenses.

Regional prosecutors say no formal investigation has been opened into whether the officials were engaging in illegal hunting, though regional environmental officials said they would push for a probe into the circumstances of the incident, which some ecologists and political commentators have dubbed Altaigate.

Conservationists say it is an open secret that officials come to Altai for hunting trips in which they simply shoot at animals from hovering helicopters, despite a ban on the practice.

With its remote mountains, the pristine Gorny Altai region is popular with hunters, and hunting is legal in some areas for Siberian goat and red deer.

Over the last decade, Altai has become a place where helicopter hunting has become rather common, said Alexei Vaisman, head of WWF-Russias anti-animal trafficking program.

The officials in the fatal expedition had hunting licences for Siberian goats and red deer, Yelena Kobzeva, a spokeswoman for the Altai government, told Interfax. The photographs published on the AltaPress.ru web site, however, clearly show animals with round curved horns, while Siberian goats have tall, slightly curved horns.

Remains of what ecologists say are argali sheep at the Altai crash site.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 1


Bikers from all around the world will gather to take part in a parade, extreme shows and rock concerts during the International Biker Festival that revs its engines today and runs through Aug. 3 near Olgino Hotel, 4/2 Primorskogo Shosse.


The Peter and Paul Fortress will be turned into an open-air cinema today and tomorrow as part of the 5th International Short and Animation Film Festival. A huge screen across the fortress walls will air short films non-stop with board games, photo sessions and other activities also on offer for visitors. For more information, visit www.opencinemafest.ru



Saturday, Aug. 2


Gatchina Palace Park Museum will host its second annual Night of Light, an impressive audio-visual show across the night sky. Tickets are 600 rubles ($16).


If graphic design is more your thing then check out Illustration Day, where you will be able to visit an exhibition, attend lectures by professionals and even show experts some of your own work. The event starts at noon at Zona Deystvia, 73 Ligovsky Prospekt. The entrance fee is 350 rubles ($10).



Sunday, Aug. 3


History lovers shouldnt miss the chance to see reenactments of World War I battles in Pushkin at noon. Besides exciting war scenes, visitors can enjoy live music, historical costumes, an equestrian show and a fancy-dress parade starting from the Moscow gates.


Garage Sale, the popular and growing flea market where nothing is priced over 500 rubles ($14.11), starts today at noon in Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt. Be sure to get in early to score a bargain. Entry costs 50 rubles ($1.40)



Monday, Aug. 4


Continue the working week with a calm and steady mind with a free yoga lesson at 7 p.m. in the Bukvoyed store at 23A Vladimirsky Prospekt.



Tuesday, Aug. 5


Visit The Romanov Dynasty doll exhibition today, where more than fifty porcelain dolls depicting Russian rulers, and made by Olina Ventzel, will be on show. The exhibition continues through Aug. 31 in Sheremetyev Palace, 34 Fontanka Naberezhnaya.



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