By Kathryn Reed
RENO, Nevada, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Africa, long the king of the jungle for big-game hunters, is losing ground to new exotic frontiers, including in the former communist world, experts said at an annual convention this week.
"People are gradually switching to other destinations," said Vance Corrigan, owner of Vance Corrigan Hunting Consultants, a Montana travel agency for hunters. "Russia and Mongolia have become rather big in the last 10 years."
"Russia because it’s been closed to foreigners for 70 years. In Mongolia people are looking for a sense of adventure. It’s almost identical to what it was like under Genghis Khan."
Rob Elizondo, 72, of Gardnerville, Nevada, was among 20,000 people attending the 35th annual Safari Club International Convention in Reno where hunting enthusiasts could learn of offerings to Africa and a wide variety of countries including Panama, Canada, Australia, Spain, Mexico, Turkey, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina and Vietnam.
Elizondo raved about the hunting in Mongolia as well as the people, and said he had hunted bear in Russia last year. "The bears, you can’t eat them because they have parasites. I‘m interested in bringing the skins home," he said.
Ibex, which are like mountain goats, and gazelles are the popular prey in Mongolia. Moose will be the target of Elizondo’s next trip -- in Kamchatka, in the Russian Far East.
Africa, immortalized in hunting lore through accounts by Ernest Hemingway and others, remains popular, but many hunters say they are seeking the latest frontier elsewhere.
Animal rights advocates view such trends unhappily.
"It’s all bad; a mountain goat suffers just as much as an elephant does," said Monica Engebretson, project director at the Animal Protection Institute in Sacramento, California.
"It’s unfortunate that those people that have that kind of money to spend to go kill an animal can’t just go and spend the money and view the animal and donate the money to conservation to help protect the animal."
The hunt for the biggest game is a rich man’s pursuit.
Vladimir Koshcheyev of ProfiHunt in Moscow, a firm that arranges visits for hunters to Russia, said bear and moose hunts are in the $10,000 range. Argali hunts can cost $55,000 because the desert sheep live at an elevation of about 15,000 feet (4,570 m), making them hard to reach. Plus, not many exist.
Spaniards, Germans and Austrians go to Russia to hunt duck, moose, wild boar and bear, he said. Americans, Canadians and Mexicans prefer the mountain regions where the sheep roam.
For the super rich wanting to hunt the very largest game, Corrigan’s firm gets $200,000 from clients wanting to hunt 34 species in Tanzania. Lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo are the prime kills. Those wanting to spend a little less, say $1,800, can go on a deer hunt in Texas.
The Arizona-based Safari Club International, a hunting advocacy group, says its 50,000 members have an average income of $200,000; 85 percent have a college degree.
Mostly Americans and Europeans, for whom hunting is a tradition, book hunting trips, travel operators said. In countries such as Japan and China citizens can not own guns.
Even though the Chinese government halted hunting within its borders last August, Wang Wei of China Adventure Travel was dispensing information about the nine subspecies of argali, and four kinds of blue sheep, which are more goat-like.
He had no timeframe when hunting in China might resume.
Hunting is also becoming more popular with women, people at the convention said. Maria Smith, 39, a Miami mother of three boys, was scouting outfitters for a family trip beyond the usual deer and bird outing in the lower 48 states.
"I‘m looking for a vacation that’s all encompassing - hunting, fishing, sightseeing," she said, adding that Africa and Alaska caught her attention.