Stockholm - More than half of all Swedish wolf deaths are the result of illegal poaching, with two-thirds of the poaching going undetected and without the mistreatment in the last ten years, the wolves’ population could be four times greater, a new study shows.
The threat of poaching during the last decade has taken its toll on the Scandinavian wolf, Canis lupis, and because of the illegal activity, current wolf populations are struggling for survival. “Many have speculated that poaching levels are high for many threatened species of carnivores,” said Chris Carbone of the Zoological Society of London, BBC reports. “This study presents an important step in trying to quantify this hidden threat,” he added. Results of the study are reported in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The study predicted each year’s Swedish wolf population based on previous year counts, using radio-tracked wolves and the ‘footprint count’, used for the last decade in Sweden for estimating wolf numbers. Taken into account were confirmed wolf mortality cases such as road kills, disease, and those found killed, but when comparing actual numbers of wild wolves to expected numbers based on their models, they found the population was being overestimated. One of the team members, Guillaume Chapron, said undetected poaching, or cryptic poaching, is the factor for differences in numbers. He called the poaching issue the “tip of the iceberg.”
The team of researchers were based at Grimso Wildlife Research Station and stated that the wolves would have numbered 1,000 in 2009, four times the reported number, had it not been for the poaching. The Swedish wolf became extinct in Sweden in the 1970s, but a small population of wolves from Finland moved in to the empty space, recolonizing the species. Around 250 wolves have descended from the Finnish population, but in addition to the poaching, face other challenges.
The current population is suffering the effects of high inbreeding and face skeletal defects and reproductive issues. Last year, Sweden allowed wolf hunting for the first time in more than four decades, with licensed hunts last year and this year. The move brought a legal action threat from the European Union, who claimed the hunts violated an EU directive.
As such, the Swedish government has instituted a “temporary halt” to the hunts, to “ensure that Sweden does not lose the right to decide on its own wolf population, said Andreas Carlgren, Sweden’s Environment Minister, International Business Times reports. The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation was critical of the licensed wolf hunts, and along with other groups, filed a formal complaint last year, stating that, while Sweden was once a pioneer in environmental protection, the hunts were “eroding its biodiversity policy,” according to its website.