Norway’s wolf population currently numbers around 68 animals. © kjelol / iStock
A decision to cull 70 per cent of Norway’s wolf population this winter has provoked international criticism and divided Norwegian public opinion.
Thousands joined a ‘Let the Wolf Live’ protest outside Norway’s parliament in October, but politicians representing farming interests have defended the level of killing.
Wolves from Norway’s expanding population have been killed under licence for several years. But the current cull will be on a different scale, targeting 47 of the country’s estimated 65-68 wolves. The justification is alleged predation of sheep.
“This is mass slaughter,” said Nina Jensen, chief executive of WWF Norway. “We haven’t seen anything like this in a hundred years, back when the policy was that all large carnivores were to be eradicated.”
Four entire packs, including Norway’s largest, will be killed in Hedmark.
This is a largely rural area with many small sheep farms, where cull details are determined by regional management authorities.
Part of the current tension arises from a rapid expansion of the Scandinavian wolf population, which has gone from near extinction to an estimated 430 animals in a few decades.
Fewer than one in six of these lives wholly within Norway, and farmers are compensated for sheep lost to wolf predation.
But tensions run high, with the Centre (formerly Farmers) Party calling earlier this year for all Norway’s wolves to killed.
“This is the hottest rural issue in Norwegian politics right now,” said Duncan Halley, a British ecologist based in Trondheim. “The minority coalition government relies on support from three small parties, including the Centre Party,” Halley added. “With an election next September, short-term considerations are to the fore.”
Before that election, and despite surveys showing that 80 per cent of Norwegians want large carnivores, it appears the country will soon be minus most of its wolves.
Find out more at the Norwegian Large Predator Monitoring Program.
Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine