The first hunter of the modern era to report taking a Marco Polo ram was British Captain John Wood in 1838 during his expedition in what is today northern Afghanistan. Outside of a very few colonial officers and explorers, the hunting for these sheep remained exclusive to Afghan royalty for the next hundred years.
In 1967 Chris and Bert Klineburger, American entrepreneurs, taxidermists and professional hunters, succeeded in convincing the Afghan authorities to allow a limited number of hunting expeditions into the Wakhan Corridor, bordering Tajikistan. They and their clients were successful in taking a number of sheep until the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 ended the program.
For over 70 years, both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan were a part of the Soviet Union. During that period, access to foreigners, especially westerners, was prohibited. When the Soviet Union began to break up in the late 1980s, Chris and Bert Klineburger, who had already achieved some success in bringing foreign hunters to Russia, were successful in getting the first permits to enter the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan. In 1987 their client, Robert “Bob” Fortier, became the first foreigner to take a Marco Polo sheep in Tajikistan in the modern era.
Robert “Bob” Kern began working with the Klineburger brothers in 1985, specifically in Russia and the various republics of the Soviet Union. His many explorations in the region added to the mounting body of information on the Marco Polo sheep population, migration routes and seasonal concentrations. When the Klineburgers retired in 1992, The Hunting Consortium Ltd. put together our own teams in Russia and in Tajikistan. The Hunting Consortium, Ltd., conducted much of the scouting and area research throughout the 1990s, developing the hunting programs available today.
The Hunting Consortium Ltd. has conducted far more hunts for this species than any other company since the advent of hunting tourism in the region. During the last twenty-five years this experience has proved very valuable to our clients. We have opened some of the best hunting areas and built some of the most famous camps, now part of the continuing saga of Marco Polo sheep hunting.
The results of recent hunts reflect the many improvements which have been made to the hunt for this highly sought after sheep. Travel in the region has never been easier and the camps have never been better equipped or staffed. All of our hunters (over 400) have been successful and this continuing success rate of 100%, along with superior trophy quality, is unequaled in the hunting industry.
Today the Marco Polo Sheep hunt is still one of the last true adventures in hunting. The current population of Marco Polo sheep is at an all-time high (estimated at over 40,000 animals in Tajikistan and more than 12,000 animals in Kyrgyzstan). The infrastructure in the regions where sheep are found is still developing and this hunt is considered one of the most exclusive and adventurous expeditions in the world.
KYRGYZSTAN (Kyrgyz Republic):
Throughout much of Kyrgyzstan the predominant species of argali is the Tian Shan sheep (Ovis ammon karelini). In hunting areas south of the Naryn River Valley, true Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii) are found.
The arrival airport is Bishkek, the capitol city of the Kyrgyz Republic. From here hunters are driven by jeep to one of several base camps, which lie approximately 300 kilometers southeast of Bishkek. The camps are usually situated at an altitude of less than 11,000 feet. The surrounding mountains are between 10,500 and 14,500 feet high.
Hunting is done both on horseback and on foot. The sheep population in this region is approximately 4,000 animals and normally a hunter will see several hundred sheep during the course of a hunt. Trophies from Kyrgyzstan average 52 – 54 inches in length.
Safari Club International and the United Sates Fish and Wildlife Service recognize all sheep taken south of the Naryn River as Marco Polo sheep. Ovis makes an additional distinction, for trophy recording purposes. Sheep from the northern most region, South of the Naryn River, can also be considered Hume’s argali, (Ovis ammon humei), because of their horn configuration and intermediate pelage, between the Marco Polo sheep and the Tian Shan argali, found North of the Naryn.
Note: At the moment all hunting in China has been suspended. When (if) hunting reopens, we will be able to offer hunts for Marco Polo sheep there again. Marco Polo sheep hunts in China are very similar to hunts in Kyrgyzstan.