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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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Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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