Wild wolf culling in Norway and weaponizing animal rights in Sri Lanka



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By Rohana R. Wasala


Norway this month (September) decided to destroy 70% of its wild wolf population, shocking conservationists and animal rights campaigners around the world. But there is some tragi-comic irony in the sharp numerical disparity between the potential victims and the prospective killers: The actual number of wolves affected is miserably small, that is, about 47 will be culled out of a total population of some 65 or so animals. These include wolves living in designated ‘wolf zones’. In contrast, the aspiring ‘assassins’ are in their thousands! There are 200,000+ registered hunters in Norway, where hunting is a popular sport. A year ago, over 11,000 people sent in applications for special licenses to kill just 16 wolves! This year the number earmarked for slaughter has trebled as can be seen. When 47 wolves are gone, there will be only 20 left in the wild in Norway.


"We haven’t seen anything like this in almost 100 years", laments Nina Jensen, head of the Norwegian branch of the WWF (World-Wide Fund for Nature), "when the policy at the time was to exterminate all the big predators."


Wolves in Norway are listed as a "critically endangered species" on the 2015 Norwegian list of endangered animals. As few as 65-68 wolves were registered in Norway according to information issued by the specialized body known as Rovdata, which is an independent part of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), where Rovdata’s role involves providing the Norwegian public, the government authorities, and the media with monitoring information and population data for the country’s large predators including the lynx, wolverine, brown bear, wolf, and the golden eagle. It’d be reason for some relief for wildlife protection activists to know that the wolf population numbers just mentioned would have improved somewhat after the birth of new pups in April and May this year, with the addition of about 25 more wolves spotted on the Norway-Sweden border region. In spite of this, the Storting, the Norwegian parliament, in early June, agreed to curb the almost extinct wolf population in the country by limiting the number of litters to between 4-6 per year; this number is intended to leave room for at least 3 for the Norwegian wolf population and the balance for the cross border packs.


Norwegian authorities claim that this control of the wild wolf population is necessitated by the need to protect local sheep farms from these animals. Sheep farming is a large national industry in Norway. Unlike other sheep farming nations, Norway allows most of its 2 million sheep to roam free for grazing all summer, wholly without supervision, herding or fencing, a practice that leaves them vulnerable predator attacks, and other forms of danger. Each year, about 120,000 animals are lost, of which 20,000 are estimated to be killed by predators. Apart from this, yearly, about 900 sheep carcasses are found. Among predators, however, the wolf is largely irrelevant in this connection, for it is considered to be responsible for only 8% of the sheep killed.


Where Norwegian wildlife protection is concerned, there is a perennial conflict between conservationists on the one hand and farmers and hunters on the other. The latter favour wolf culling. In 1846, Norway passed laws offering rewards for hunting down the above mentioned top rankers in Norway’s predator hierarchy. This led to the near extinction of all those species by the mid-twentieth century. It became necessary to declare the wolf a protected animal. The animal has been given protected status since 1973.


Conservationist Sverre Lundermo of WWF Norway is an evolutionary biologist with a PhD in Biology. He opines that "It seems strange that we should punish the wolf for following its natural instincts, particularly within specially designated zones where the wolf supposedly has priority over livestock". He has also observed that actually attacks on livestock have halved despite the wolf population having doubled over the past year. According to him, "Most of the injuries are inflicted by roaming young wolves from Swedish packs".


Predator Alliance Norway (PAN), the wildlife conservationist group, is based in Trysil, the heartland of the locality where most of the recently announced wolf cull will be carried out. Naturally, opinion is divided over the subject. Farmers and hunters support the culling policy while conservationists and many common people oppose it. Cars are seen driving about the place displaying large stickers with slogans such as "Real Men Shoot Wolves". It is said that this is in order to show support for six local residents who were imprisoned last year for poaching. Ironically, this is the hometown of the founder of PAN, Lars-Erik Lie (46). Lie, a mental health worker by profession, founded the group in 2010. The Guardian newspaper (UK) reports him as saying: "I got so upset and saddened by the locals’ thirst for wolf blood, and wanted to show that not all villagers are in favour of wiping out this beautiful animal. …Many locals think there should be room for both predators and livestock, but they have kept their mouths shut out of fear for repercussions." Lie is among those who have been threatened by wolf cull supporters. He attributes the mindlessness of the latest government approved culling operation to the obvious lack of a scientific and professional approach to the problem.


Predator Alliance has petitioned the Norwegian Premier, Erna Solberg, asking her to intervene for protecting the nearly extinct wolves. The group has collected 35,000 signatures for their petition. " We humans have become greedy , behaving like nature is there for our taking", PAN head Lie said, "When you have a population as small as the one we have in Norway now, you have to draw the line".


Friends of the Earth, another conservationist group in Norway (This must be the local representative of the huge global network of environmental organizations in 75 countries including Australia known as Friends of the Earth International; I don’t know if Sri Lanka is in it too) suggests some simple practical solutions such as rearing more habitat-compatible breeds of sheep and cattle, better fences and more efficient methods of herding. WWF Norway is reported to be exploring the possibility of legally challenging the government decision on the wolf hunt before the D-day of January 1, 2017 when it is due to start.


The cue for writing this article came from an online petition I signed some days back demanding that the planned wolf cull in Norway be stopped. When I checked it about a week ago, signatures had already exceeded 100,000. I am sure readers who are interested in this campaign may have already joined it by signing the petition. Following is the relevant link for others who care about environmental protection to do so.


http://www.thepetitionsite.com/459/200/467/demand-norway-stop-mass-slaughter-of-its-endangered-wolf-population/


The reader may naturally think that the subject of this column has little relevance to us because the problem of protecting the endangered wolf population in Norway is something that we can do nothing about. We don’t even have wolves in our (sadly diminished) jungle areas. Yet, a little thought will convince us that since wildlife protection is a global enterprise that is of vital importance for the very survival of the human race, anything that increases our awareness about it is useful for us. Apart from the many useful lessons/hints that we can derive from it about protecting our own wildlife, the story of the predicament of the Norwegian wolf is a matter of personal as well as public interest as far as I am concerned.


I like dogs. The dog has probably been the most popular pet animal around the world and in many cultures for many thousands of years. There are over 340 different breeds of dogs today. These different breeds are versions of the common animal known to scientists as canis lupus familiaris. The gray wolf (canis lupus) of Central Asia is their common ancestor. The wolf in Norway belongs to the species known as the Eurasian wolf or the common wolf (canis lupus lupus) which is native to Europe and the forest and steppe zones of the former Soviet Union. It is a subspecies of the gray wolf or canis lupus above mentioned. I have a special love and respect for the wild wolf of great canine beauty as the authentic original product of natural evolution (Human genetic interference has been responsible for the ‘explosion of dog breeds’ that we have seen).


No nation can boast of greater concern with environmental (fauna and flora) protection than the people of Sri Lanka who have been influenced by the compassionate teachings of Buddhism over a period of two and a half millennia, which frequently and specifically stress its importance. The news of the Norwegian wild wolf protection controversy brought to my mind how some alleged animal rights campaigners are raising an outcry against the age-old tradition of using elephants in peraheras. They are sponsored by certain anti-Buddhist foreign NGO’s hell-bent on undermining Sri Lanka’s ancient Buddhist culture, which, as is well known, is part of a powerful global campaign to destroy Theravada Buddhism. Why Buddhism should become such a target of attack is not a mystery to those who know about the evil forces that sustain the existing anomalous world order. It is not an exaggeration to say that these lovers of filthy lucre are actually ‘weaponizing’ wildlife protection slogans to attack Sri Lanka’s Buddhist cultural establishment like some others are doing with alleged human rights issues. What I wish to say here, as an aside, is that the Mahanayakes and the responsible lay Buddhist leaders must work selflessly to put a decisive final end to the artificial ‘elephants for perahera’ crisis without further ado.


Unfortunately there is little public awareness about these dangers. The hypocritical policy of ‘political correctness’ exploited by self-seeking opportunistic politicians is one of the main reasons for this. Even the local media, with remarkable indifference, propagate news stories that are inimical to Buddhist interests irrespective of their truth content. They seemingly suppress, with the same cynical unconcern, the good things that Buddhist monks and lay persons do. For example, the first Buddhist Animal Rights Conference was held in Seoul, Korea on September 30, 2016, which is co-sponsored by Coexistence of Animal Rights and Dharma Voices for Animals. The two last mentioned organizations have branches in Colombo and Kandy.


For information in the last paragraph, I am indebted to well known journalist Shenali D. Waduge/Lankaweb, September 26, 2016, whose profuse writings on subjects of national interest are extremely enlightening in these critical times.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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