A Russian surgeon has boasted about how he has built a £1.2 million-a-year business offering wealthy tourists the chance to hunt elephants, rhinos and lions as trophies.
George Ragozin, who is nicknamed the ‘crazy Russian’ by his clients, offers trophy-seeking foreigners packages that include shooting beasts of their choice, alongside accommodation, food, beer and wine – plus a daily washing service.
They start at $5,000 USD (£3,800) for a ten day safari that includes hunting wildebeest and zebra, $21,000 (£16,000) for a male and female lion, and $34,000 (£26,000) for a fortnight of ‘leopard baiting’.
More expensive packages are $55,000 (£42,150) for five days hunting white rhino or a 12-day elephant shoot. He even offers a seven-day trip to stalk and kill a black rhinoceros, a critically endangered species, for $550,000 (£421,000). The costs do not include chartering aircraft, firearms and ammunition, nor the shipping of trophies and tipping his staff.
He claims his trips are fully booked until 2020, while his website displays dozens of images of previous clients with their kills. A video shows Ragozin on safari as a caracal wild cat is shot out of a tree – and a blue wildebeest is slaughtered.
The former Moscow medical student, now a father of three daughters, went into the hunting business after refusing a doctor’s monthly salary of $300 (£230). He insists his expeditions in South Africa – where he is based – along with safaris in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Burkina Faso and Namibia – are all licensed and legal.
He came into the spotlight in Russia in recent days after a critic claimed he was trying to encourage children to hunt. Pictures found online show him with two of his daughters – Ksenia, now 20, and Dana, 19 – when they were children posing over fresh kills.
Ksenia appears to have been 13 in the picture with a blue wildebeest while Dana was slightly younger with a gemsbok and a common warthog. Critic Maxim Tikhonov wrote: ‘Discovered some George Ragozin who …came up with a creative idea to teach hunting to children starting from age eight. $5 per bullet.’
Ragozin hit back: ‘Hey you, listen…’ followed by a barrage of Russian jail slang, finishing: ‘I’ll come for you – just wait.’ One South African source reported: ‘Elephant populations are down 30 per cent in the last 10 years. So why is hunting them still allowed? […]
Ragozin has been pushed into the media spotlight in Russia amid claims he is encouraging children into hunting after pictures emerged of him and his infant daughters with kills
A hundred years ago, the population of African Elephants stood at 10 million. That figure is now a miserly 400,000.’ Ragozin has loyal supporters not only among Russians but also Americans, Germans, Spaniards, Slovaks and Slovenians, he said. In one video Ragozin is called the ’embodiment’ of Russian hunting pride in Africa.
He is ‘a legend who is loved, respected and admired all over the trophy world. Foreigners jokingly call him a crazy Russian,’ the video says. ‘He is a highly goal-oriented person in what he does. He’s very decisive and persistent in achieving ambitious goals in trophy hunting.’
An earlier picture shows him with close Vladimir Putin ally Dmitry Rogozin, currently head of the Russian Space Agency and formerly vice prime minister. He set up his hunting business 15 years ago and it now boasts a $1.5 million (£1.15 million) turnover.
‘I am Moscow born and bred,’ he said. ‘After school I continued my family tradition and entered the surgical department at Perviy Moscow State Medical Sechenov Institute. ‘I was really keen on becoming a doctor, but receiving a salary of $300 was so humiliating. ‘I married during my student years and there was no way I could feed family with such income. ‘
He said ‘you’ve got to play by the local rules’ to operate in Africa and boasts that he now has his own hunting estates covering up to 15,000 hectares. ‘The hunting “fashion” changes year to year,’ he said. ‘Some time ago antelope hunting was super popular. Now this type of hunting ….is in no demand.’
The ‘top interest’ now is ‘dangerous’ animals and ‘very expensive packages ranging from $50,000 (£38,500) to $700,000 (£537,000) per one safari.’ It is unclear what this VIP safari would involve.
He started a 120-animal zoo near his home and hunting ground in the Limpopo province of South Africa – larger in size than Moscow Zoo. He admits it is loss-making but claims hunting leads to animal conservation – and he criticises ecological groups for failing to help animals in the way they claim.
‘Not a single green or eco organisation offered a hand in running this zoo,’ he said. ‘I take all these organisations with a fair bit of skepticism, as to my mind they work a lot more for the public than for nature.
‘I believe that hunting in conservation and that hunters take much better care of nature than anyone else. ‘One example: when South Africa legalised trophy hunting, the number of animals grew eight times. Taking care of animals is priority of any hunting business.
‘The link is obvious – the more animals, the better business. This is why hunters all around the world are the best donors.’ Ragozin has a professional hunter’s license for dangerous game, and is a member of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa, Safari Club International (SCI) and the International Professional Hunters Association (IPHA).
He was backed today by trophy hunter Sergey Yastrzhembsky, 64, former spokesman to Putin and his predecessor Boris Yeltsin. ‘South Africa is one of the brightest and most convincing examples of how a properly organised trophy hunting can become a highly profitable business,’ he said.
‘It creates workplaces, revenue that brings taxes to the budget, improves living standards of local communities, provides market with high-quality meat, and helps to develop tourism. ‘Forty years ago there were half a million animals, from jackals to elephants, in South Africa – when the country switched to modern trophy hunting model.
‘Now there is a total of 20 million animals in South Africa alone. ‘About 10,000 foreigners who go trophy hunting generate from $900 million to $1 billion in revenues.’ In Namibia the number of animals has risen from around 500,000 in the 1970s to four million today.
Over the same period, Kenya – once a ‘hunting heaven’ – has lost around two thirds of its animal population, he said. ‘White and black rhinos have been preserved because of trophy hunting,’ he said, adding that animal rights activists ‘are often guided by emotions not knowledge.’
There are less than 20,000 elephants left there, poaching is blooming and system of national parks is not effective. ‘On top of that there is a pressure from cattle farmers, Maasai, for example, who don’t really care about regulations.
‘Hunters are interested in preserving biodiversity, for as long as there is biodiversity, there will be hunting. ‘Private companies are a lot more flexible [in addressing challenges such as poachers]. ‘Organisations that are involved in hunting also protect the hunting areas from poachers.’
This article was first published by The Mail Online on 11 Sep 2018.