Unexpected move reverses a trend that has seen increasing numbers of large carnivores shot by hunters each year since Romania’s accession to the European Union.
In 2016, the largest hunting quotas yet gave hunters the mandate to shoot 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats over 12 months. Photograph: Radu Sigheti/Reuters
Romania has banned all trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild cats in a surprise decision that gives Europe’s largest population of large carnivores a reprieve from its most severe and immediate threat.
The move on Tuesday reverses a trend which has seen the number of large carnivores being shot by hunters grow year on year since Romania’s accession into the European Union in 2007. In 2016, the largest hunting quotas yet gave hunters the mandate to shoot 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats over 12 months.
Over the last decade, hunting has grown into a multimillion-euro industry in Romania, with hunters from all over the world paying up to €10,000 (£8,800) to claim a ‘trophy’ – hunting parlance for the carcass of a hunted animal – from the Carpathian mountains.
The government has claimed that in order to exist, the industry relies on a loophole in European law which allows for the culling of wild animals that have been proven to be a danger to humans. Under the habitats directive, all large carnivores are protected in European Union member states, yet the state can order the killing of specific animals if shown to have attacked a person or damaged private property.
“Hunting for money was already illegal, but it was given a green light anyway,” environment minster, Cristiana Pasca-Palmer, told the Guardian. ‘The damages [clause in the habitats directive] acted as a cover for trophy hunting.”
Each year, hundreds of hunting associations across the country would submit two numbers; the total population of each large carnivore species, and the total number which they believed to be likely to cause damages. The second number would then act as a basis for a government-issued hunting quota for each species. These quotas were then carved up between hunting companies and sold as hunting rights to the public.
“This method raised some questions,” says Pasca-Palmer. “How can hunting associations count how many animals are causing damages a priori – before the damages have happened? By introducing the ban, what we are doing is simply putting things back on the right track, as the habitats directive originally intended.”
Wildlife NGOs claim that the methodology also tended to dramatically overestimate the populations of large carnivores. The official figure for the number of bears in Romania is over 6,000, and for wolves is 4,000. Yet with hundreds of hunting associations each responsible for monitoring a small area of land, and animals prone to wandering, it is understood that individual animals were often counted multiple times, potentially pushing the total population statistics up by thousands.
Announced late on Tuesday evening, the ban is expected to divide Romania’s population, pitching rural and urban dwellers against each other. The government’s decision has strong support in the larger cities, which have seen a growing movement against hunting in recent months. But in much of Romania’s remote countryside large carnivores are a daily threat to villagers and a persistent nuisance to livestock farmers, and many see hunting as the only solution.
Csaba Domokos, a bear specialist with wildlife protection NGO Milvus group, is convinced that the success or failure of the hunting ban rides on the government’s ability to address the rural population’s fears.
“Damages caused by large carnivores are a very real concern in the countryside,” he said. “The system up until now did not work; hunting does not reduce conflicts between carnivores and humans; in fact many studies show that with wolves and large cats, it can actually increase the problem.
“But the rural population believe that hunting is the answer, and unless they can be convinced otherwise, people may well start to take the problem into their own hands. The ban is a great step, but we don’t want hunting to be replaced by poaching.”
Domokos points out that hunters also have a vested interested in the protection of their quarry. “To some extent, hunting acts as a financial incentive for wildlife management, from preventing poaching to conserving habitats. There is some concern that once you take that away, the government will not invest enough to replace it.”
Hunters pay up to €10,000 to trophy hunt in the Carpathian mountains. Photograph: Nick Turner/Alamy
The government’s response is to take management into its own hands. A special unit is to be set up within the paramilitary police force that will assess any reports of damages by large carnivores and deal with the culprit animal directly. The ministry of environment have discussed the possibility of relocating the target animals abroad to countries interested in ‘rewilding’.
The ban comes amid a growing push for the protection of Romania’s wild mountains that has seen anti-corruption officers convict dozens of foresters, hunters and local officials in recent years.
Gabriel Paun, an activist and conservationist behind a petition that collected 11,000 signatures in the weeks before the hunting ban, sees the government’s decision as a step towards a safer future for Europe’s wild spaces: “The Carpathian mountains are home to more biodiversity than anywhere else in Europe, but for too long they have been ruthlessly exploited for forestry and hunting. Let’s hope the government’s decision is a sign of things to come.”
Norway’s recent decision to destroy 70% of its tiny endangered population of wolves shocked conservationists worldwide and saw 35,000 sign a local petition. But in a region dominated by sheep farming support for the cull runs deep.
Norway has a population of just 68 wolves and conservationists say most off the injuries to sheep are caused by roaming wolves from Swedish packs. Photograph: Roger Strandli Berghagen
Conservation groups worldwide were astonished to hear of the recent,unprecedented decision to destroy 70% of the Norway’s tiny and endangered population of 68 wolves, the biggest cull for almost a century.
But not everyone in Norway is behind the plan. The wildlife protection group Predator Alliance Norway, for example, has campaign posters that talk of wolves as essential for nature, and a tourist attraction for Norway.
Nothing unusual about that, given it’s a wildlife group, except that the group is based in Trysil, the heartland of the territory where most of the wolf culling announced by Norwegian authorities last week will take place.
Lars-Erik Lie, a 46-year-old mental health worker who founded the group in 2010, told the Guardian: “I got so upset and saddened by the locals’ thirst for wolf blood, and wanted to show that not all villagers are in favour of wiping out this beautiful animal.
“Many locals think there should be room for both predators and livestock, but they have kept their mouths shut out of fear for repercussions.” Lie has himself been the target of threats.
Culling could undermine the viability of the entire Norwegian wolf population, say conservationists. Photograph: Roger Strandli Berghagen
At the heart of the matter is the conflict between sheep farmers and conservationists. Norway is a large sheep farming nation, unique in letting most of its 2 million sheep roam free all summer without herding, fencing and with little supervision.
As a result, 120,000 sheep are lost each year, and 20,000 of these deaths are attributed to predators, judging by state compensation payouts, which are based on documentation and assessment by the authorities. Beyond that, 900 cadavers found annually are confirmed to have been killed by predators. The wolf accounts for 8% of kills.
Wolves, bears, lynx, wolverines and golden eagles are Norway’s native top predators.
In 1846, the authorities issued bounties to hunt them down, resulting in all species being virtually extinct by the mid-20th century, The wolf was given protected status in 1973, a watershed in wildlife management for the acknowledgement of its part in Norwegian fauna and in need of protection. The first wolf returned in 1980, though the first breeding entirely on Norwegian soil did not take place until 1997.
In the meantime, a new breed of sheep had invaded the land. “The breed of sheep vastly favoured by Norwegian farmers is unsuited to roam around the rugged terrain of the country,” said Silje Ask Lundberg, from Friends of the Earth Norway.
The sheep is favoured for its size and large proportion of meat, but is a bad climber and has poor herding and flight instincts, unlike the old short-tail land race, considered the original Norwegian sheep race, prevalent on the west coast, where ironically there are no wolves.
Just across the mountain from Lie’s house in Trysil, is the territory of the Slettåsen pack, which has been marked out for a complete cull even though the wolves live within a designated wolf zone.
The framework for predator management has been set by parliament, with local predator management boards setting hunting and culling quotas when population targets have been achieved.
“The lack of a scientific and professional approach is obvious,” said Lie. In January his organisation filed a complaint that the board votes in representatives with vested interests, such as farmers, whereas green party members have been excluded.
Lars-Erik Lie of Predator Alliance Norway. Photograph: Arve Herman Tangen
At his office in Oslo, Sverre Lundemo of WWF Norway is also puzzled. “It seems strange that we should punish the wolf for following its natural instincts, particularly within specially designated zones where the wolf supposedly has priority over livestock,” he says.
“The Slettåsen pack is very stable and of genetic importance. Scandinavian wolves are subject to inbreeding and poaching, and this makes the small population more vulnerable to random events. Culling these individuals can undermine the viability of the entire Norwegian wolf population.”
According to Lundemo, the decision for culling appears to be based on politics as much as on science. The WWF have examined the case document that formed the base of the decision. “This a questionable decision on many levels. The case documents don’t substantiate why these three particular territories were singled out for culling,” said Lundemo.
Despite the population within the wolf zone having almost doubled since last year, attacks on livestock have almost halved. “Most of the injuries are inflicted by roaming young wolves from Swedish packs,” said Lundemo.
Sweden has stricter regulations for sheep farmers, refusing to compensate farmers who don’t protect livestock properly. As a member of the EU, Sweden had a planned licenced cull of 10 % of their wolf population of 400 in 2014 reduced following pressure.
Friends of the Earth advocate more suitable breeds of sheep, or cattle, and better fences and herding. WWF is exploring the option to challenge the decision legally before the wolf hunt sets in on 1 January 2017.
Back in Trysil, the Predator Alliance is gaining momentum. The group has submitted a 35,000-signature petition for protecting the wolf to the prime minister, Erna Solberg. “We humans have become greedy, behaving like nature is there for our taking,” said Lie. “When you have a population as small as the one we have in Norway now, you have to draw the line.”
Culling has hit the headlines recently, and various species have topped the undesirables list. it seems to be fashionable across the globe to shoot first, ask questions later. From the Japanese randomly killing dolphins, to Australians going all out on sharks, I’d like to make a radical proposal to stop this madness.
In Norway the new fad is to kill the wolves, despite 80% of population wanting to keep the species in their high numbers. The problem is with farming: it is claimed that sheep are killed by these animals. However, around 1500 out of 2 million Norwegian sheep are killed by wolves a year, and these small numbers are compensated for. A much higher proportion of their deaths is predicted to be the result of some dumb sheep thing like falling down a crevasse. Moreover, wolves supposedly present a danger to human life. Remarkably, for a somewhat foreward thinking, humanitarian country, the proposed culling in Norway still seems to think of the wolf as the big bad creep out of a Brothers Grimm fairytale. In reality they affect humans very little: no one’s been killed by a wolf since 1800.
These animals, which have called Scandinavia their home for thousands of years, are facing extermination by ignorance and fear-mongering. Absurdly, farmers have said the animal “contributes nothing.” Well besides balancing the ecosystem what do you expect wild animals to contribute to the human world? It’s like saying ‘hamsters are shit bankers, so to hell with the lot of them’. And quite frankly I think this statement is rash, existentially wolves may ‘contribute’ more than economics can measure. If it wasn’t for wolves, what would people get tattooed to represent their spirituality? Jokes aside, if people do not pay attention to this ridiculous occurrence its existence will only snowball, and these majestic creatures will become extinct.
Similarly the Hufflepuff mascot is being culled by our meat obsession. Not to go all Morissey on you, but the British badger is effectively being killed so we can kill other animals. It’s not even working. The aim of the policy is to prevent TB spread in livestock. The randomised culling however has led to the remaining badgers spreading to TB areas and catching the disease, so the problem has just been aggravated. My only suggestion in this line of thinking, for a completely successful British cattle-farming, is to kill every animal apart from the ones we want to eat. In fact, kill all the cattle too because 94% of bovine TB spread is due to herd-to-herd transmission. If we’re going to roll with this fists-first attitude, why not go the whole hog (or cow)?
One could argue that it is a survival of the fittest, dog-eat-dog world. If the Dodo was too stupid and fat to survive, that’s not our problem. The issue I take with this reasoning is that it’s regressive and insulting to humanity: have we not evolved beyond the carelessness of survival techniques such as these? Aren’t we intelligent enough to realise when something is destructive – and what’s more, ineffective – and found a logical and peaceful way around it? It’s like we haven’t made any progress since we were hairy cavemen and ladies thrusting spears at woolly mammoths.
To me, culling is an unnatural, nonsensical and lazy policy which does not belong in the modern world.
National Geographic photographers reveal their intimate encounters with these unique coastal predators.
Two wolves run on the beach, exploring the tidal zone for meals. (Photo: Paul Nicklen)
When we hear the word “wolf” nearly every one of us will think of wolves in a forest. Perhaps in our mind’s eye, we see a pack of wolves chasing down an elk or bison in Yellowstone, or monitoring a herd of caribou in Alaska, looking for the weakest link. But what we likely don’t think of is a wolf standing in an estuary stream catching salmon, or strolling along a beach poking through washed-up kelp for barnacles and other morsels to eat.
Yet that is exactly what happens among a very specific population of wolves living on the coastal islands of British Columbia. These wolves don’t hunt deer, in fact many may go their whole lives without ever seeing a deer. Instead, they rely on what the tide brings in. Fish roe, crustaceans, seals and washed-up whales are common meals for these wolves, which have been named sea wolves for their reliance on the ocean for food.
They are entirely unique and with behaviors that have scientists fascinated, but they are also heavily persecuted by humans. Between this and a future threatened by climate change, the outlook for these wolves is tenuous at best.
Photographers Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier recently went on assignment for National Geographic, spending weeks in the field crouched in a blind to photograph the intimate lives of these secretive wolves. We spoke with them about their experience, as well as what the average person can do to help preserve a highly unique and little-understood population.
Coastal rain wolves live on the outer Islands of the BC coast. Wolves on these Islands live on a very diverse selection of food including deer, chitons in the intertidal zone. (Photo: Paul Nicklen)
MNN: You spent weeks on the ground, waiting for sightings of a pack of wolves. What was it like the very first time you laid eyes on them?
CM and PN: We arrived on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia where we knew a couple of wolves had been sighted. We used our zodiac (small raft) to circumnavigate the island — a journey that took about 1.5 hours, until we sighted paw prints on the sand. The trick for us was to predict the patterns, trails and times the wolves were patrolling certain beaches, and to try to be there before them.
The first time we saw them it was a total fluke. We landed the zodiac on a beach and as Paul and Oren went up a stream to check things out, I stayed with the zodiac and was utterly surprised when one of the wolves came trotting out of the bushes. A small, slender female, she was completely calm and she just kept trotting my way until she was just 30 feet away.
At the same time, Paul and Oren rounded the corner of the stream and came into the open beach. Now the wolf was in between us. Instead of panicking, she just sat on her haunches, did a long, lazy stretch and then just went back the same way she had come from.
It was a comedy of errors, in which the wolf played its part and we, as photographers, fumbled and made mistakes and ended up with only mediocre pictures of a perfectly lovely encounter.
You had the unique opportunity to watch wild wolf pups hang out with their family. What was it like to witness the family structure of the wolves?
What we found was a pack of five pups being watched by a single adult female, presumably their mother. When pups are young, the entire pack helps take care of them. All the members bring food to the mother, who has to stay with the young pups. On this occasion, the pack must have been out hunting and when night fell and we had to leave, they still had not returned.
The next morning, when we returned to the beach, the pups were gone, so presumably the pack returned and they all moved on to another den site.
A mother and pups on the beach is a rare sight for anyone, and these photographers put in their dues to be able to witness it. (Photo: Cristina Mittermeier)
You two spent weeks in a tiny blind, waiting for opportunities to photograph the wolves. What do you do to stay, you know, sane?
Working in the blind gave me a whole new level of respect and admiration for photographers who specialize in wildlife. We spent a total of 28 days working from this blind, and it was hard.
The first few days were fun and busy as we selected the site and slowly and carefully set out to build the blind. One has to work slowly and early in the morning as not to disturb things. We laid a tarp on the ground to keep ourselves dry.
Unfortunately, the material crinkled and made noise every time we moved, so we had to remain really still. This meant stiff muscles and boredom. To pass the time we rnd a lot of time together. It teaches you a lot about a partner, when you have to be jammed in a small space and unable to move or talk for long periods of time. I have to say I enjoy Paul’s company very much.
Three wolf pups play with a piece of kelp. (Photo: Cristina Mittermeier)
Why these wolves? What sets them apart so much from other wolves as an extra concern for conservation?
The wolves of British Columbia are very different from any other wolves we have ever encountered. Unlike the gray wolves of the BC interior or the much larger timber wolves, rain wolves or sea wolves as they are known are small and dainty.
Unlike any other wolves, these ones don’t mind swimming between islands, sometimes for long distances but what truly sets them apart is the fact that over 70 percent of their diet is marine. They patrol the beach during low tide and eat mussels, clams and other marine life.
They are also very adept at hunting for salmon as the fish make their way up forest streams. Most impressively, they are able to hunt seals and sea lions.
These wolves are specialists in the meals that are available along a coastline. (Photo: Paul Nicklen)
Which is the most pressing concern to the future of these coastal island wolves?
Very little is known about them and preliminary DNA studies by scientist Chris Darimont from the University of Victoria indicate they might be a distinct race or even a subspecies.
For us, the real driver, however, is the fact that these fascinating animals are not protected by provincial or federal laws and people are not only allowed, but encouraged to kill them.
They are so curious and their habit of patrolling the beach exposes them to the danger of shooters who can spot them from boats.
The coastal island wolves are used to getting their feet wet for a meal. (Photo: Paul Nicklen)
What can the average reader do right this minute to help protect coastal wolves?
One of our partner organizations, Pacific Wild, a small NGO based in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, is doing a lot of work to make authorities more aware of the ecological and indeed, the cultural importance of these animals.
The recent approval of a plan to slaughter 400 wolves in central BC makes it even more imperative to encourage the drafting of some laws that offer some protection.
Pacific Wild has gathered almost 200,000 signatures in a petition to the Premier of BC, Christy Clark to protect rain wolves. Supporting such a petition, opposing the wanton slaughter of wildlife, and educating themselves about the impacts of recreational hunting of apex predators is the best things people can do.
Find out more about Nicklen and Mittermeier’s conservation work at SeaLegacy, a nonprofit working to document the planet’s fragile marine ecosystems and inspire advocacy for their protection.
On the heels of such news like Cecil the lion who was brutally poached by a Minnesota dentist, or Blaze, the assumed grizzly to have been killed by Yellowstone staff in retaliation of fatally attacking a solo hiker, there are questions to be asked looking forward.
In the case of Lance Crosby, the 63 year-old hiker who died defending himself from a sow grizzly, there are two sides to the debate. One side of the argument tends to blame the man who was hiking alone, not using bear spray, and not wearing bells; While park officials state that there was evidence that the body was cached to be eaten at a later time. Being the devil’s advocate, let us remove blame from both parties and ask a simple question.
It is truly sad that a man lost his life while recreating in such a beautiful place, but that place is one inhabited by grizzly bears, a top carnivore in the park. It has been shown that sows with cubs have less tolerance for humans in close proximity, versus bears without cubs (2000, Stonorov).
On second thought, perhaps Blaze WAS hungry; Park officials did state the body was cached for a later meal. Is it unreasonable to expect that a large carnivore would eat human flesh? Is it possible we are not the top species? After all, this incident occurred in a wild environment. It’s not as if she broke into a home, or attacked someone in their backyard. If anything it occurred in her backyard…..but I digress.
Besides recreation and ranching, rural areas are becoming home to vast numbers of people every day. Subdivisions are sprouting up at an alarming rate all across the country in an effort to escape city life, but when wildlife gets too close people become afraid. Instead of arming with guns, I recommend education as a way to arm yourself from possible encounters that can happen while living or recreating in wilderness. Here, fellow author Rachel Tilseth gives first-hand knowledge on ways to protect yourself from mishaps while protecting wildlife at the same time.
In other wildlife news, gray wolves have returned to California and are also experiencing both positive and negative feedback. Wolf advocates are pleased to have the species back in the state, while ranchers are leery of the possible interactions between wolves and their livestock. Again, another case of large carnivores not being accepted for what they do naturally- feeding themselves. Is there a happy medium? We shall see what wolf management has in store down the line as wolves become established.
In closing, just remember that wild places belong to wild beings, and education is the key to living in harmony and coexistence with wildlife.
Gray wolves now live in every Upper Peninsula county.
GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. – One or more wolf packs now live in every Upper Peninsula county, having spread from west to east over the past 20 years. Most –for now – are concentrated in Western counties, according to state wildlife officials.
“More live in the Western U.P. than East, but it’s not a huge difference,” said Kevin Swanson, the statewide wolf and bear program coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “There is at least one pack in every county now, and many more in some.”
In all, there are 125 packs, approximately 636 wolves, according to data from the agency’s last winter wolf survey in 2013/2014. The survey was not conducted last winter because of the “controversy over them and because they were listed again as an endangered species,” Swanson said.
“We are looking to do a winter survey to see how many there are,” he said. “We haven’t seen (U.P.) deer density this low in decades, probably not since the early 1980s. We’re wondering what we will see because deer are their main prey. The winter started out very badly last year, but we had an early break up and deer were able to get away. I’ve seen more fawns this year. It looks like we have had good fawn production.”
Two to five wolves per pack
Wolves travel in packs, but pack sizes vary. Survey data indicates that 23 packs were roaming pairs. Other packs were larger, averaging five wolves. Wolf territories also varied widely, from 5 square-miles to 291 square miles, averaging 45 square miles. Wolf territories have shrunk as the population has grown, Swanson noted.
“We had exponential growth from the 1990s to early 2000s: 68 packs in 2003 and 125 packs in 2013 and 2014,” Swanson said, adding that wolf reproduction is assumed to be good. The next survey will tell more.
Livestock depredation continues to occur. Eleven incidents have been recorded so far in 2015. Ten cows have been killed, along with one pig. Dogs have been spared, but it is still early in the season.
“Last year (2014) we had 43 total depredation incidents – 26 cattle and 17 dogs,” Swanson said. “The vast majority (of dogs killed) were hunting dogs. Most were bear hounds, but some were beagles out hunting snowshoe hare. The dogs were all far from the hunter or owner when they were attacked and killed.”
Attacks on dogs typically occur in mid-to-late summer or fall once the dog training season opens in early July, Swanson explained.
No wolf presence has yet been confirmed in Lower Peninsula, according to Swanson. There are signs, but no hard-evidence.
“We haven’t confirmed any since 2008 when one was confirmed,” Swanson said. “We’ve seen tracks that are wolf-like, but their presence has not been confirmed. I’d guess we might have a few (in the northern Lower Peninsula, but they are hard to detect.”
MARQUETTE, Michigan — The Michigan Court of Claims has upheld a law empowering an appointed panel to allow hunting of wolves.
The state Legislature approved the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act last August. It gave the Michigan Natural Resources Commission the authority to classify animals as game species. The commission already had given wolves that designation, which led to the state’s first authorized wolf hunt in 2013.
The law nullified two citizen votes last fall that would have prevented wolf hunts. A group called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected filed suit, saying the law violated the Michigan Constitution.
In a ruling issued Friday, Court of Claims Judge Mark T. Boonstra disagreed, writing that the group’s suit “fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” He said the court was not taking a position on whether wolves should be hunted or not.
“That policy judgment is properly left to the Legislature and the people of the state of Michigan,” Boonstra said. “Rather, the sole question before this court is whether the legislative enactment in question violates the Michigan Constitution as alleged.”
A state spokesman praised the ruling.
“The citizen-initiated law gives authority to the Natural Resources Commission to regulate sport fishing in Michigan, aligning with the NRC’s authority to regulate the taking of game,” John Pepin, a Department of Natural Resources spokesman in Marquette, told The Mining Journal (http://bit.ly/1e0Sdwz ). “The act gives the NRC the authority to name game species. All of this supports sound scientific management of natural resources in Michigan.”
The Michigan United Conversation Clubs, a leading hunting and fishing group, also praised the decision.
“The court recognized that the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act was about just what its title says, managing fish, wildlife and their habitats with sound science,” spokesman Drew YoungeDyke said in a statement.
The wolf protection group said it will appeal.
“The judge was clearly hostile to our case, and did not seriously address the key issues of the complaint,” said Keep Michigan Wolves Protected Director Jill Fritz. “We have good legal arguments and our next step will be to the Court of Appeals.”
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