By Mikhail Feontistov
Foreign revenue generated by the Park from its accommodation and hunting licenses is rising in proportion to the number of foreign hunters arriving in the Pushcha. In spring, the schedule for hunting tours was compiled until the end of the year, with over 700 hunters due to arrive from Russia and Western Europe. About 200 have already visited, taking home hunting trophies.
Holidaying in the Pushcha with their guns, foreigners help the game wardens of seventeen forestries sustain an optimal population of animals, while eradicating undesirable inhabitants such as the raccoon, which has no natural predators in the forest. Their overpopulation is a real problem, with this small animal’s smell frightening large animals; it also destroys bird nests.
Another pest in the Pushcha is wild boar, which often attack nearby farms in large groups. These clever ‘dziks’ — as local residents call them — are a Western European hunter favourite, since urbanisation has led to their extinction in some countries. Foreigners compare the boar with a grand piano, owing to its huge size; its tusks alone reach twenty centimetres, making a prestigious trophy.
Meanwhile, aurochs are a protected species, with hunting prohibited in the Pushcha. Around 400 live in the Park and are not allowed to leave unless being sent to other reserves or zoos. This summer, three females were sent to Russia’s Bryansk Zoo. Interestingly, the population of aurochs previously recommended for the Belovezhskaya Pushcha was 250 but this has risen to 400, owing to the addition of neighbouring lands (which have gained reserve status). Applications to kill these majestic animals are available in certain circumstances, where an auroch is ill or very old, but the paperwork involved is lengthy. The Park must send a photo to Belarus’ Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Ministry, with an explanation of the need for the animal’s death. If the National Park’s arguments are convincing, a commission travels from Minsk to the site to view the auroch and decide its fate. Sadly, last summer, a healthy auroch was killed by a foreign hunter by mistake, as the court ruled; he had thought he was hunting a wild boar. Nevertheless, the German was required to pay a $30,000 fine for his error.
As regards illegal hunting, various mechanisms are in place to prevent poaching, implemented by the National Park’s own forest guards. Recent legislative changes allow such poachers to be punished for their actions.