Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hunters join researchers and conservationists in innovative #wolf survey in Slovakia

14 Oct 2015

Hunters, trained conservation volunteers, foresters, national park staff, environmentalists, researchers and students carried out field work gathering biological samples in view of testing a non-invasive wolf census methodology.
 One of the many controversies surrounding large carnivores relates to knowledge over their status (distribution, numbers and population trends). A major part of this conflict concerns whose knowledge is ‘right’ when different stakeholder groups proffer disparate information.

 The aim of the project, conducted from 2013 to 2014, was to address conflicts between stakeholders arising from differing perceptions of wolf abundance.

 This one-year project was one of the pilot actions on large carnivores at the population level developed under the project Support to the European Commission’s policy on large carnivores under the Habitats Directive – phase 2 (contract no. 07.0307/2013/654446/SER/B.3). It was therefore financed by the European Commission and implemented by the Istituto di Ecologia Applicata (Rome) with support from the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe (IUCN/SSC LCIE).

Considering that Slovakia is a range state with ongoing controversy on wolf hunting management, it appeared relevant to focus the action in this country while also conducting field work on transboundary areas in order to improve collaboration with other countries.

Wolf numbers are often hard to census, with controversy arising from uncertainty in the interpretation of numbers of wolves from tracks and signs as well as the added complication of the same wolves being counted more than once as they move between hunting units.” It was therefore relevant to develop methods for improving populations monitoring while involving local stakeholders in the process so that voluntary workers are mobilised and conflicts on the validity of the various knowledge forms are reduced.

 From December 2013 to June 2014, the fieldwork was conducted with 60 people including trained conservation volunteers, hunters, foresters, national park staff, environmentalists, researchers and students.

The action was the result of cooperation between the Slovak Wildlife Society, the Slovak Hunting Association, Forests of the Slovak Republic state enterprise and organizations of the State Nature Conservancy of the Slovak Republic as well as the University of Ljubljana’s Animal Ecology Research Group.

Non-invasive samples (urine, scats and hair) were collected in order to genotype them and identify the individuals. Various results were then highlighted:
  •  20 different wolves were identified
  •  It appeared that those individuals were members of  5 up to 9 packs
  • The population showed a high genetic diversity
  • There was no evidence of hybridization between wolves and dogs
  • The data gathered indicate the presence of 20 - 45 wolves in the area
  • Greater sampling effort to enable the use of capture-recapture analysis would allow for a more precise estimate
 The advantage of this pilot was to successfully test procedures and identify problems while obtaining sufficient results to demonstrate the potential utility of the method, that could be then developed at regional, national and transboundary levels.

The other positive consequence was to obtain population census that is not contested by the various stakeholders.

The demonstration of a state-of-the-art approach to improving knowledge of large carnivore population status should help to foster a critical appraisal of traditional methods and will hopefully open the way for improved methods and collaborative data generation in the future.

For more information:

Engaging stakeholders in wildlife monitoring
Robin Rigg, Tomaž Skrbinšek & John Linnell
Final report, December 2014

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