Wolves are divisive. Farmers worry over livestock, while others see them as a misunderstood species almost driven from Europe in the 20th century.
‘The wolf population in Scandinavia is a genetic bottleneck,’ says Richard Morley, director at the Wolves and Humans Foundation. ‘All wolves coming into Sweden and Norway have to pass through reindeer herding areas, and because they have historically not been tolerated in those areas, it’s meant that the entire population is descended from about five original wolves.’
The Swedish government wants to increase this genetic diversity, according to Morley. ‘One motivation is to remove in-bred wolves before new blood is introduced from Russia. The goal is not to eliminate wolves,’ he says. At one time there was a plan to release zoo-bred wolves into the wild to increase genetic diversity, but this raised problems because the wolves were too habituated to humans.
‘Poland is among the European countries with the strongest record on wolf preservation,’ says Morley. ‘The wolf was protected there in the 1980s and populations have been established in the West. There has even been some migration to Germany.’
That wolf migration is a big problem for Europe, and animals often wander from a country with a liberal attitude to a country with a stricter policy, frustrating conservation efforts.
‘The government also wants to demonstrate to people in Sweden who are against wolves that it is prepared to control the population,’ Morley adds. There are about 400 wolves in Sweden and the government hopes to see that number reduced to around 200. ‘The principle is that it is better to have a small amount of legal hunting rather than a large amount of illegal hunting.’ This season will aim to kill around 43 wolves, providing the legal challenges to the hunt are finally over. Sweden’s wolf hunt was so fiercely debated, it even provoked #Anonymous to protest hack government websites in the country.
This story was published in the March 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine