Monday, 14 January 2013

Winter of the wolf in Siberia

Wolves, creatures of legend, and creatures creating a headache for the people of Yakutia, and Khakassia in Siberia. Driven by hunger from the lack this year of their usual food, reportedly mostly mountain hares, they’re searching out the reindeer herded there. 16,000 reindeer were reportedly killed last year and hundreds of horses, says the Russian region of Yakutia’s president, Yegor Borisov. They are estimated to have caused $5 million dollars worth of damage, valuing a reindeer at 10,000 roubles ($330)

Borisov has called for a three month cull of the wolves. His office says there are 3500 wolves in Yakutia and those numbers should be reduced to 500. He’s offering rewards for wolves killed and six figure rouble sums to the top hunter.

However there are doubts over the numbers cited by Borisov and about the chances of killing 3000 wolves. I spoke to Vladimir Krever from the World Wildlife Fund Russia’s biodiversity program. He cites a Ministry of Natural Resources report from last year which says there are 6-8000 wolves in Yakutia. As he points out, “it’s a huge territory, the largest in Russia, with very few people. It’s very hard to estimate the numbers of wolves accurately but it’s definitely more than 3500. 6000 wolves in Yakutia is a normal amount.” That means that Yakutia’s government may also be way off when it says it wants to reduce the wolf population to a ‘normal 500’ by killing 3000 wolves.

However Krever thinks that killing wolves is the right policy. It’s just going to be impossible to do. “When wolves start killing livestock  they have to be killed. Even if 3000 could be killed the population would recover quickly. Normally around 600 wolves are killed in Yakutia each year. If you really stretched it with expensive spotting planes and helicopters you could maybe double that figure. But 3000, no chance.”

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