Norway Eyes Wolf Cull to Protect Sheep

OSLO, Norway, January 15, 2001 (ENS) - The Norwegian government's plans to endorse a wolf cull as well as grant export licenses boosting the country's whaling industry have international animal welfare groups angry.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the London based Born Free Foundation (BFF) have urged the Norwegian government to drop its plan to cull two family groups of wolves.

The plan follows complaints from sheep farmers who are losing livestock to carnivores.

wolf

Farmers trying to protect their livestock have made wolf culls a perennial issue in Norway. (Photo courtesy Born Free Foundation)
WWF says the most recent tally of wolves in Norway and Sweden, put the South Scandinavian population at between 51 and 80 animals. They live in eight - possibly 10 - family groups, three of which roam only in Norway.

The two family groups targeted by the Norwegian government represents about 20 wolves - between half and two thirds of the country's wolf population, says WWF.

"Extermination of these two family groups will not solve the conflicts with farmers," said Rasmus Hansson, chief executive officer of WWF-Norway.

"The government has targeted wolves that prey almost only on moose. It rather suggests that party politics led the agenda."

An advisory panel of Swedish and Norwegian scientists has concluded that a critical minimum of 500 wolves is needed for the short-term conservation of the South Scandinavian wolf population.

WWF and BFF argue that if the hunt takes place, it will wipe out 25 to 40 percent of the current population even though it has not yet reached 20 percent of what the panel regards as viable.

"The hunt will have an effect on the population of wolves shared by Sweden and Norway but is being carried out unilaterally by the Norwegians," said William Pratesi Urquhart, coordinator for WWF's large carnivore initiative for Europe.

"As the entire population can not be considered to be viable at this time it is not advisable to remove these two packs. Any action that is taken should be carefully thought through and carried out in collaboration with Norway's neighbouring countries."

The Osterdalen region, home range of the targeted wolves, is the only area in Europe where four large carnivores - wolf, bear, wolverine and lynx - co-exist with their natural prey - moose, red deer, roe deer and reindeer, says WWF.

It is the best wolf habitat in Norway, and also straddles Rondane National Park, one of the country's best known protected areas.

According to the two groups, the Norwegian government has set aside US$240,000 for the hunt for which it intends to use helicopters, snow scooters and specifically trained hunters.

"The same government is also funding a research project into the effects of wolves on a moose population," said a BFF statement. "This research will be disrupted by the wolf kill.

"Would these funds not be better spent in implementing effective humane livestock protection methods?"

Both groups argue that under the Bern Convention, Norway is obligated to maintain a viable wolf population.

That did not stop the government from authorizing the cull of two wolves in 1999. Then, the government argued that Article 9 of the Bern Convention allows culling when "there are no other satisfactory solutions and that this circumstance will not damage the survival of the population in question."

The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats was adopted in Bern, Switzerland in 1979. Its objective is to conserve wildlife and plant species and their natural habitats. It emphasizes endangered and vulnerable species, including endangered and vulnerable migratory species.

News service Norwegian Post reported last November that farmers in the Norwegian county of Hedmark sought compensation for the 9,000 or so sheep that were killed by predators in the 2000 feeding season.

The figure was 350 more than in 1999 and in more than half of the cases, lynx and wolverine had preyed on the sheep.

"There are two wolf families living in Hedmark, and one out of every 10 sheep that farmers demand compensation for are presumably killed by wolves," reported the Post.

Whale exports

The Norwegian government is currently holding hearings on whether to grant export licenses which would allow Norwegian whaling companies to export meat and blubber to the lucrative Japanese market.

warehouse

Greenpeace claims tonnes of minke whale products, often packed in cartons labeled in Japanese, are waiting in warehouses in Norway to be exported. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
"If it goes ahead the number of whales that will be killed each year is bound to increase dramatically as the whalers will press for massive increases in their quotas," said a Greenpeace statement.

"Past experience shows that any legal trade will result in a proliferation of pirate whalers and illegal trade. The only thing that has prevented Norway from granting licenses up until now is the fear of a strong reaction from abroad."

The group claims hundreds of tonnes of minke whale products, often packed in cartons labeled in Japanese, are waiting in warehouses in Norway to be exported.