Sweden slaughters its wolves

January 21, 2011 at 9:04 am Leave a comment

A cull of 20 wolves began in Sweden on Saturday 16 January 2011; the second in 45 years.   The Swedish government granted over 6000 licences to hunters, and by Monday 14 wolves had been shot and killed.

Apart from stirring up the international outrage of conservationists, this slaughter of one of Europe’s top predators is actually illegal.

Sweden’s flouting of European law, however, has not gone unnoticed by EU Environment Minister, Janez Potocnik, who is now starting court proceedings to bring the Swedish government to account.

The wolves in Sweden have a very narrow genetic gene pool, which stem from just a few wolves in Finland and Russia.  And hunters and policy makers are now using this as the reason for the cull. They claim they are doing it for the future benefit of the population as a whole.

Certainly, biologists have seen the genetic pool as a problem for many years. But the answer is not to kill a significant proportion of the wolf population.  This can instead be resolved by strengthening the gene pool, and translocating wolves from elsewhere in Europe.

The real problem here is that wolves depredate livestock and hunting dogs, and the farming and hunting lobby has a powerful voice in Sweden.

Hunting dogs are allowed to run free in habitat that is occupied by wolves, and a number of these are killed each year.  Hunters also see the wolves as competitors for prey species.  So essentially, what they are saying is that hunters’ rights come before those of a species that should be entitled to go about is daily activities in its own natural habitat.

Livestock depredation is another problem, but again this can be resolved with better animal husbandry and livestock protection measures.  Ironically, Sweden itself was part of the international community that castigated Norway a few years ago for culling 10 of its 20 wolves, and lambasted the country for its lax farming practices and livestock protection, and for killing wolves that had shared territory across the border between Norway and Sweden.

The economics of hunting must also bear scrutiny.  Granting over 6000 hunters a licence to kill just 20 wolves has certainly increased the coffers of the Swedish government.  I also question both the integrity and skill of some of these hunters.  It has been reported that a number of the wolves have suffered horrendously as hunters have taken pot shots at them.  One male wolf was hit several times and suffered greatly before finally bleeding to death.

Wolves are creatures with a high level of intelligence.  They are social animals that live in closely-bonded family groups, and more importantly, as apex predators, they are a vital part of the ecosystem.  More than could be said for human hunters and their dogs!

I have written personally to Janez Potocnik, and would encourage others to do the same.  His contact details are at the foot of the page, along with links to other news articles. The international community needs to support the EU minister positively but firmly in his decision to take the Swedish government to court over this illegal practice.

The international outcry is justified, and the Swedish government should be pursued through the European legal system and an example made of a country that so blatantly flouted international law.  Granting the huge number of licences it did was also a mistake and has sent completely the wrong message.  If the issue was really about the genetic pool and maintaining the health of the population as a whole, then surely a cull should have been carried out properly by government officials.  The Norwegian cull involved just a handful of hunters, and although there was also an international outcry over this, the cull was carried out effectively by far fewer hunters.

And in an attempt to appease the hunting and farming lobbies, Sweden has missed an amazing opportunity.  Just imagine the tourism dollars Sweden could have attracted had they taken the other course of action open to them, which was to ensure a healthy and viable population of a charismatic predator.  Yellowstone National Park is testament to this.  It is estimated that Yellowstone now receives between $7 to $10 million each year from wolf tourism.  Early in the wolf reintroduction programme an economist warned that Yellowstone would lose revenue and make just $500,000 per annum as a result of wolves taking game animals, which would leave fewer elk for hunters and result in lost revenue for outfitters and other hunting-based businesses in the park.  How wrong this was.  And Sweden should take note!

For me this cull is a complete travesty.  It has taken us back to the dark ages of wolf persecution, and in a country that I believed to be more tolerant of its large carnivores.  But apparently not!

To contact Janez Potocnik: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/potocnik/index_en.htm

Some points to consider:

  • The wolf cull is illegal, whatever reasons Swedish ministers give to justify their actions.  This should therefore be pursued using the proper legal channels.
  • Sweden is citing the small genetic pool as the reason for the cull, but have shown no attempts to address this situation through the translocation of wolves from other parts of Europe.
  • It does not take 6700 hunters to kill 20 wolves.  The conditions for hunting have been favourable, with snow on the ground making the wolves highly visible and easy to track.  If the wolf cull was deemed necessary (and this is a big if), then Government officials should have carried this out appropriately with an organised cull.
  • The Swedish government have not put forward any scientific justification for the cull.  Yes, there is a problem with inbreeding within the population, but this could be addressed other ways.
  • The rights of hunters and farmers are being put above those of the wolves and other members of the community, including the international community.  This is morally and ethically wrong.

Other articles about the Swedish wolf cull:



Entry filed under: Ethics, Sweden wolves, Wolf Conservation, Wolf Hunting. Tags: , , , , , .

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