Issue 4, 2011. August-September

   

POACHING ON BUSINESS: HUNTERS TRACK A NEW MARKET AND BETTER REGULATIONS

Hunting tours, hunting farms, hunting restaurants and hunting stores. Georgia has a long tradition of hunting - and the potential to develop a rich niche market for local and foreign hunters if it can find a balance between protecting its natural resources and promoting them.

Maia Edilashvili

Beer, poems and folklore are dedicated to hunting in Georgia - a rural survival skill that has evolved into a booming business in Tbilisi.

Shops dedicated to selling guns and hunting apparel dot the city.

Sales at Denti, a hunting store in Tbilisi, peak in August during the weeks preceding the autumn hunting season. Paata Museridze, the owner, said they sell twice as many guns in August than during the rest of the year, when sales average at 20-30 a month.

This can be a good business as hunting clothing and paraphernalia, from guns to boots to dogs, is expensive - guns range from 800 to 5000 lari, and hunting clothes can be just as expensive. But hunting entrepreneurs believe hunting tourism could be even bigger.

Ramaz Chadashvili, a long-time hunter, senses that there is untapped business potential in the Georgians' love of hunting.

This summer he opened a hunting restaurant, Nabuli, in Tbilisi's Saburtalo district. At Nabuli, hunters wear their passion on their sleeve. Hand-carved hunting scenes adorn the fireplace while hunting-themed paintings and deer horns hang from the walls.

"Hunting tourism development needs special infrastructure and our restaurant is part of that," he said. "Such restaurants are a commonplace in the West."

Chadashvili hopes the restaurant, which boasts an exotic menu - including roast pheasant - will become a hang-out for hunters and gourmands, and the base for more hunting-related businesses.

"We'll cooperate with the tour agencies to attract foreigners; in the future we may even acquire license for a [hunting] farm..." he said. Expansion plans also include opening shops in popular tourist areas such as Svaneti, Signaghi and Batumi.

Ivris Chalebi (Iori Groves) is part of the Kazbegi Business Group and in 2006 opened a lodge which allows hunting, investing half a million lari in the business. The farm has 1,530 hectares in the Kakheti region - Sagarejo, Signaghi and Dedoplistskaro, where along with fishing, the hunting of wild boar, pheasant, partridge, various species of duck and goose is permitted as well as of fox, wolf, jackal, hare and badger.

Hunting farms must pay a hunting fee to the state. For killing a wild boar the fee is 100 lari, while killing a hare costs 2 lari and for a pheasant the fee is 15 lari.
Ivris Chalebi consultant Gia Asatiani believes hosting groups of foreign ‘hunting tourists' is a natural extension of their business, although at the moment he admits that few guests come for hunting alone.

On the crossroads of one of the largest bird migration paths in the world, Georgia is a paradise for bird hunting, particularly quail and pheasant.

Bear and rabbit hunting is also popular: Georgians have been hunting bears for centuries, especially in the mountainous regions.

Fight against poachers

The appearance of new hunting-themed businesses is a sign of optimism for the industry. However, a potentially crippling mixture of poachers, high prices and environmental concerns threaten to stunt growth even as local entrepreneurs pursue foreign hunters and tourist groups.

Government figures show a slight increase in poaching this year: 133 cases were registered from January to May compared to 124 last year.

Dalis Mta (Dali Mountain) hunting farm in Kakheti is home to 132 bird species, 31 varieties of reptile, 25 types of mammals and three species of amphibian. Poachers have wrecked havoc on the farm, noted director Beka Gonashvili. "We just had to give up this business," he said.

By law in Georgia hunting is allowed only on specially allocated areas such as hunting farms and only at certain times of the year on those species which are not on the verge of extinction but many hunters and environmentalists don't believe the system is working.

Government response

There are plans to help hunting farms develop - a move the government and conservationists believe will help business and the wildlife.

The Ministry of Energy and National Resources plans to issue farms licenses of longer validity and allow them to develop farms on bigger areas. However, officials told Investor.ge there are no plans to increase the fines or punishments for poaching.