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Crying Wolf: A Misguided Canine Extermination Campaign or Sheep Protection?

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In the Caucasus, villagers and wolves are currently locked in a deadly zero-sum game. With the recent cold snap in Armenia, some wolves began targeting livestock. Reports indicate that the damage was sometimes considerable, with over a dozen sheep from a single herd killed in some of these attacks. The government on Feb. 9 announced it would reward hunters for each wolf hide they turned in to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Some environmentalists, however, argue that there may be a different reason—aside from the cold—that has driven the wolves closer to villages, and that a different solution may be better both for the wolves and locals.

Around 170 gray wolves have been killed since the government promised monetary rewards to hunters. The prize was roughly $260 (100,000 drams) per hide—a hefty sum for much of rural Armenia.

Around 170 gray wolves have been killed since the government promised monetary rewards to hunters. The prize was roughly $260 (100,000 drams) per hide—a hefty sum for much of rural Armenia. Armenian Environmental Protection Minister Aram Harutiunian told a press conference in mid-February that “because of the heavy snowfall, wolves began to appear more frequently in populated areas, and it became necessary to deal with them.” He added that the species would not face extinction.

Caucasus Nature Fund Executive Director David Morrison, however views the wolf issue as a “tragic story.” “I believe that culling should be a last resort, and that, if used, should be carefully constructed so that it is clear that only animals straying into inhabited areas are targeted—and if possible by trained people,” he told the Armenian Weekly. “A bounty that can be collected by anyone is a drastic measure. I sympathize greatly with the plight of local people…but remain to be persuaded that the government’s policy is appropriately balanced.” He added, “This is always a complex issue and the devil is in the detail of dealing with it.”

According to Morrison, there are some questions that need to be considered first in this specific human-wildlife conflict: Is the wolf population healthy and appropriate in size for its range? Is the wild prey been over-hunted, and why? Have locals taken appropriate mitigation measures, such as dogs and good fences?

The government says the wolf population has grown in recent years. Reports put the number of wolves between 500 and 700. The Armenian Ministry of Nature Protection further claims that the wolves have become a threat to endangered species.

Some environmentalists disagree. The coordinator for the non-governmental organization EcoAlliance, Silva Adamian, believes those numbers are outdated, and that scientific research on the size and condition of Armenia’s wolf population is needed. “The last survey was conducted more than 10 years ago! We need to learn about the current state of their natural habitat,” she told the Weekly.

According to Adamian, who works at the Zoological Institute, villagers aren’t properly equipped to fend off the wolves. “Instead of financially rewarding hunters, the government should give the money to villagers so that they can afford to fortify their barns, and purchase fences and dogs,” she said.

Who let the wolves in? 

Morrison says there may be a variety of reasons why some wolves are targeting livestock: “Sometimes their numbers grow beyond the capacity of their habitat to feed them, or their prey is over-hunted, or there is a particularly harsh winter as there was in Armenia this year, and they roam beyond their protected homelands, and local people react. It happens in Armenia as it does in Montana.”

Recently a lawsuit was launched by Montana conservation groups who wanted to ban wolf hunting and trapping in the state. The suit was rejected by the

Wolf hide at the Ministry of Environmental Protection (Hetq.am photo)

court in mid-March. Some 500 wolves were killed in recent months in the state according to reports, after wolves were taken off the endangered species list last spring. Wolf hunting is supported by ranchers who fear for the safety of their livestock, and hunters who say big game has declined due to the number of wolves in the area. Montana has a quota of 220 wolves per hunting season. The state’s wolf population was estimated at 653 by the end of 2011, and the state aimed to reduce it to 425 during the latest hunting season. Montana hopes to further shrink that number to 150, which conservationists say is too low to sustain their population.

In Armenia, some environmentalists are certain there is a clear link between wolf attacks on livestock and illegal hunting practices. According to Ruben Khachatrian, the director of the Fund for Wildlife Protection, part of the blame falls on hunters and poachers. “[Because of] the growth of uncontrolled poaching, the illegal killing of mammals that represent food for the wolves, they have become more aggressive, looking for food in villages and attacking horses, cows, and sheep,” he was quoted as saying.

Like Khachatrian, Adamian believes that wolves pose a danger to villagers only when their natural habitats are harmed and they are forced to roam closer to human settlements in search of prey. “The destruction of their natural habitats, deforestation, and mining are contributing to the disruption of the natural food chain,” she said, adding, “When wolves are allowed to hunt in their natural habitat, then there will be no need to carry out these illegal and financially motivated hunts.”

Adamian does not advocate a ban on hunting, but its regulation. She believes there should be a limit on the number of wolves that are hunted per season. “That will help regulate their population,” she says.

According to officials, a similar wolf hunting project was successfully implemented in Karabagh. In turn, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has sanctioned wolf hunts since the beginning of 2009.

The state of the wolves elsewhere 

In the beginning of the 20th century in the Northern Rocky Mountains area of the western United States—like in the rest of the country—wolves faced extinction after clashes with humans. They were placed on the endangered species list in 1967, and remained there for decades. In the 1990’s, after it had become apparent that wolves were an integral part of the eco-system, Canadian wolves were brought to the region. Over the past 20 years, the state and federal government has spent over $100 million on wolf restoration programs, according to an Associated Press article. Last year, Congress removed the species from the endangered species list in the Northern Rockies, except for Wyoming.

Like Montana, Idaho too is aiming to reduce its wolf population—from 1,000 to 150—through deadly means, including hunting, trapping, and snaring. Between August 2011 and February 2012, Idaho hunters killed some 322 wolves.

In other countries, such as Poland, wolves are protected. According to two conservation groups—WOLF and the Wolves and Humans Foundation—the Polish government passed a bill banning wolf hunts in 1998. Today, there are around 750 wolves in Poland. Conflicts with humans continue to arise over livestock attacks (although according to one study, 90 percent of wolves’ diet is comprised of wild game). Meanwhile, their wild prey numbers have shrunk due to over-hunting of ungulates (hoofed animals, such as mountain goats) by humans, development, and “forestry activities.” As dictated by Polish law, the state compensates farmers for any losses ensued from wolf attacks. Despite such measures, wolf hunting enjoys support among affected farmers, as well as the 100,000 member Polish Hunting Union that supports the reintroduction of a law reclassifying wolves as game animals.

Although called gray wolves, these canines’ color can vary from as light as white to pitch black. Their packs consist of a mated pair, their offspring of the previous year, their new pups, and sometimes young adopted wolves. The females give birth once a year. Wolves are opportunistic carnivores that prefer ungulates.

18 Comments on Crying Wolf: A Misguided Canine Extermination Campaign or Sheep Protection?

  1. avatar arek avedian // April 5, 2012 at 6:03 pm // Reply

    Thank you so much Nanore, I did not even know there were wolves in Armenia. I do believe that management of our wildlife is a reflection of the management of our the country in general and I believe both are being mismanaged.
    Nanore your articles on the environment and nature are very appreciated. I just hope of some good new coming from the so called leaders of the government. Arrogance and ignorance don’t bode well for a society which is seen at every level of the government

  2. avatar John Kevranian // April 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm // Reply

    Over $44,000 has been paid to hunters for killing our national treasures. Why not reimburse farmers who are losing livestock. I believe it would cost less to reimburse for loss of livestock. Once we eliminate the wolves, we won’t be able to bring them back.

  3. Well these wolfs are not only attacking livestock they are attacking residents of rural regions of Armenia. There have been many confirmed cases recently when the villagers have been attacked.

    I agree that the process of the hunting should be controlled and only the stray ones that attack humans and livestock should be killed. Before critisizing the you have to put priorities. After all the choice is human life vs wolves.

  4. It sounds as if there are way too many wolves. Wolves should be a rare animal to be seen, if there are so many that they are close to town it’s obvious the problem was allowed to go on for too long. The basic function of government is to protect the people and their animals from such a menace.

    • Is that why we have an oligarch system where certain families alone get “elected” to power and become wealthy? Where 1/3 of its population has already left? Where women’s rights do not exists? Lets solve these issues first instead of riding Wolves shall we?..

    • the problem is human growth. wolves have been on this planet for over 3000 years without doing any harm. Humans are taking their land and food. What your saying is like starving you for a month, holding baked chicken in front of you then punishing you for eating it. Start using that thing in your head called a brain and think rationally.

    • I love wolfs people just walk out their front door and KILL wolves hardly makes any sense

  5. Yes wolves can’t steal from livestock but the Government can steal elections, the people’s rights and money of course..

  6. Demons… Stealing from livestock means that they’re hungry. Why do we humans have right to choose their fate? How dare we?! We can protect our livestock, yes, but we can never. kill. anyone. The nature has never this right to us.

  7. Shame, Shame, Armenia. Its is bad enough that Turkey has done all it could to destroy Armenian heritage in historic Western Armenia. Why is the Armenian government doing the same in idependant Armenia? Not only killing wolves, but spoiling and polluting the country-side. Why is Armenian quarrying rock right across the border from Ani and using earth shaking blasting to do so? The vibrations are causing damage to what is left of Ani? Do we want tp finish what the Turks started? What a shame.
    Dear Nanore, please continue following and writing about about these topics.

    • avatar Tatiana Gumuchdjian // June 22, 2012 at 6:17 am //

      I totally agree. When I was working in Armenia I realized there was a real problem in this country with pollution. All of us, diaspora Armenians, always ask for more land because Turkey stole it from us. Most of them haven’t even been to Armenia and have no intention on ever doing so, but demand more land regardless. When I traveled through the country, I was sickened by the amount of trash littering the beautiful landscapes. I had a long talk with the editor of National Geographic Armenia where I was working and I told him that before we learn how to take proper care of this land, we shouldn’t ask for a single extra square meter. I’m not saying Turkey takes better or worse care of the land, and it’s not the point. The point is, you shouldn’t just have land because you had it before, you should have it because you will treat it as well as you claim to love it.

      I also am totally on the side of Devon, we are an overpopulated planet. The problem aren’t the wolves but the humans. Very interesting article Nanore!

  8. avatar Vanessa Wolfe // July 19, 2012 at 5:10 am // Reply

    A very special man once said “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated”. Never were there more true words spoken. Humans needs to lose the ego and the greed, think of the big picture not just the self, wolves are an integral part of the ecosystem. It is a failing of man that he kills anything that he doesn’t understand or can’t control. We now have the knowledge from many scientific studies, worldwide, and there are alternatives. It really doesn’t take much intellingence to see what is motivating these apathetic decisions. It requires a common and united voice, just like this and other forums, to spread the word and awaken the sleepers.

  9. avatar Vanessa Wolfe // July 19, 2012 at 5:24 am // Reply

    “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” –Ghandi
    “If all the beasts were gone, man would die from loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beast, happens to the man.” –Chief Seattle
    “Until he extends the circle of compassion to all livings things, Man will not himself find peace.” –Albert Schweitzer
    “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” –Thomas Edison
    “All cruelty springs from weakness.” –Seneca (4 BC – AD 65)
    “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” –Thomas Edison
    These are just a few quotes from some of the worlds greatest people, there are so many more, why aren’t we listening. We need a common & united voice, like this and other forums, spread the word and awken the sleepers.

  10. With the Human influence on the earth’s biomass it’s hard to say who is in fault. The middle man are the people who have live stock.

    The governments want to make the people happy and the wolf is and was always there, it’s just that now they threaten human lifestyle. It all comes to humans haveing the last word.

    In the North Armerica Wolves were hunted down to extinction and only recent reintroduction helped to bust poppulations.

    I think our government make a little too abrupt action without taking into consideration that wolf is a valuable speciece to the caucases. But, that remains to be known if the prey speciece is even there or not.

    Seemingly the caucases nations are more engaged in politics of the region and territorial despiutes than protecting the wild life.
    I think both are important.

  11. save the wolves! down with hunting as a sport!

  12. avatar Lori Kalemkerian // January 9, 2013 at 1:51 pm // Reply

    Killing wolves has become an acceptable practice all over the world in the past few years. There has to be a reasonable way to deal with the “problems” that does not involve killing these magnificent, necessary creatures. We, people, are the problem, not the wolves. Over hunting of the wolves normal food source and over development of the land for housing have put the wolf in a no win situation. Until we humans can learn to coexist with wolves the issues will continue. We need to look at them as part of the fragile eco-system we exploit rather than a scourge. They provide a necessary service by keeping the herds of deer, elk, caribou healthy. A wolf has an inate ability to determine which animal is weak, injurded or sick enough for them to make a quick and easy kill. Unfortunately, hunters dont do this. They often take the healthiest stock thus deminishing the herd’s ability to flourish. The wolves must be put back on the endangered species list in all countries in the world, limits and restrictions must be established for farmers and herders and hunters and a logical, ethical and sound policy must be established on how we live with wolves. A wolf’s DNA is a 95% match to a domesticated dog’s DNA. How can we live with and love dogs yet have so much trouble seeing a wolf in the same light?

  13. If anyone should know about being hunted and killed it’s the Armenians. So the Armenians have become the Turks and the wolves are the Armenians. They have forgotten their history. SHAME ON YOU ARMENIA.

  14. I hate people who kill living breathing animals ………… Listen too this what if we were the wolves and people killed us we wouldn’t like it would we?…… NO we wouldn’t like it

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