gray wolves

A pair of gray wolves plays at Wolf Park in Indiana.

(Photo: Raed Mansour/flickr/cc)

'Shameful and Heartbreaking': Largest Wolf Cull in Modern History Underway in Sweden

"It's disastrous for the entire ecosystem," warned one activist. "The existence of wolves contributes to a richer animal and plant life. Human survival depends on healthy ecosystems."

Wildlife defenders in Sweden and beyond decried the start on Monday of what's being called the largest wolf cull in modern times, arguing that killing nearly a fifth of the country's critically endangered lupine population could have grave consequences for biodiversity.

Swedish public broadcaster SVTreports hunters in the five Swedish counties with the most wolves—Gävleborg, Dalarna, Västmanland, Örebro, and Värmland—will be allowed to kill a total of 75 wolves out of a national population of 460 animals.

"The existence of wolves contributes to a richer animal and plant life. Human survival depends on healthy ecosystems."

Last winter, Sweden authorized the killing of 27 wolves, while hunters in neighboring Norway had permission to kill 51 wolves—about 60% of the lupine population—and Finland approved the culling of 27 wolves.

While Gunnar Glöersen, the predator manager at the Swedish Hunters' Association, says "hunting is absolutely necessary to slow the proliferation of wolves," Daniel Ekblom of Sweden's Nature Conservation Society called the cull "tragic."

"It could have consequences for a long time to come," Ekblom told SVT.

Other opponents of the cull noted Sweden's relatively low wolf population. Italy, for example, is only about half as large as Sweden but has around 3,000 wolves, which are strictly protected by law.

"Wolves as top predators in the food chain are a prerequisite for biodiversity," Marie Stegard, president of the anti-hunting group Jaktkritikerna, told The Guardian, warning that killing so much of "the population through hunting has negative consequences for animals and nature."

"It's disastrous for the entire ecosystem," she said. "The existence of wolves contributes to a richer animal and plant life. Human survival depends on healthy ecosystems."

Stegard added:

It is obvious that there is strong political pressure for licensed hunting for wolves, and also lynx and bear.
There is a large majority of Swedes who like wolves, even where they live. In our opinion, the reason for these hunts is simply that there is a demand for shooting wolves among hunters. The hunters' organizations have enormous power in Sweden. It is a fact that the Swedish parliament has a hunters' club open to members of all parties, with a shooting gallery underneath the parliament. This sounds like a joke but it's absolutely true.

The Swedish Parliament is also lobbying the European Union to remove wolves and bears from its list of species in need of protection.

Hanna Dittrich-Söderman, who leads the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency's wolf program, says the lupine predators hold a special place in national folklore, evoking primal fears and irrational hatred.

"There is no other animal that is so easy to both demonize and glorify as the wolf—an imagined fear or hatred has been attached to it," Dittrich-Söderman toldThe Local. "We have almost made it a symbol of our fearful nature as a whole, it has almost mythical qualities."

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