Our Endangered European Carnivores~ Part 1 of 5

Animals were not something we could always live separate from. They were our food, our clothing, held religious significance and were deserving of respect. They kept us alive or kept themselves alive; all in one perpetual cycle. With the advance of this “blessed modernity,” our Europe-dwelling animals, especially our carnivores, are being pushed from their homes, killed for frivolous reasons, and in some places- not even existing anymore.

Large carnivores were once seen almost exclusively as competitors for animals that were valued by people for food or hunting. Much effort was spent in attempting to eradicate them throughout the Northern Hemisphere. As a result, large predators have vanished from many areas or been reduced to remnant populations. But there are encouraging signs that public attitudes towards large carnivores are beginning to change and many people now respect their place in Europe’s natural heritage. This change has allowed large carnivores to return to parts of their former ranges.

The fate of large carnivores ultimately depends on people’s willingness to coexist with them at a local level. [from The Large Carnivore Initiative Europe]

There are five major predators that the LCIE is working to return to their wild European homes: the brown bear, the wolf, the Eurasian lynx, the Iberian lynx, (the most endangered cat in the world!), and the wolverine.

The wolverine:

Wolverines are scarce in Europe today. Their continued survival is threatened due to their small and fragmented distribution, and the potential for their future survival may be weakened by the likelihood of low genetic diversity. Habitat loss per se is not a substantial threat to wolverine conservation. Large areas of Norway, Sweden and Finland are still covered by forests and mountains that offer a suitable prey base and habitat for wolverines. The problem is that these are not wilderness areas, and wolverines come into conflict with a low, but crucial, number of human land uses. The fact that there are no large areas within their distribution where there is no conflict potential with sheep or semi-domestic reindeer means that human tolerance for wolverines is low. This results in a difficult situation for wildlife managers who are forced to try and balance wolverine conservation with the conflicts they create with livestock.

In Norway, farmers no longer use traditional sheep-herding methods that once deterred depredation, so wolverines are often controlled in an effort to protect livestock. Poaching also occurs. The annual harvest quotas in Norway, which are currently set by government-approved committees, are very high in relation to the best, scientifically obtained, population estimates, and it is not clear whether they are sustainable. It is also unclear how much wolverine control reduces losses of sheep and semi-domestic reindeer. Human disturbance is not a general problem at present in wolverine habitat, with the possible exception areas close to natal dens.

In addition to their circumpolar distribution across Siberia and North America, wolverines once occurred throughout the European part of Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Baltic states, and northeast Poland. During the 19th century, wolverines disappeared from the southernmost of these areas in Europe mainly due to persecution, but also due to deforestation and other human developments. Today surviving populations are found in central and northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and European Russia, ranging across alpine, tundra and northern taiga habitats. There are estimated to be around 2,000 wolverines left in the wild in Europe, of which 1,500 are found in Russia, and a minimum of 265 in Sweden, 150 in Norway and 110 in Finland. Although wolverines can occupy both alpine and forested habitats, they were most heavily persecuted in the more accessible forest areas. This resulted in populations surviving longest in the alpine habitats of the mountain ranges in Norway and Sweden. Although numbers are increasing, wolverines presently remain in the high-altitude alpine habitats.

“There is still a lot of good wolverine habitat left throughout the mountains and forests of Scandinavia, Finland, and Russia. The only limitation is human acceptance of wolverine. If the conflicts between wolverine and livestock can be decreased, then wolverines should have a good future in all Scandinavia and Finland. However, there is a very long road to walk before we can achieve this goal.” (Dr John D C Linnell, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research).

Text sources: Action Plan for the Conservation in Europe of the Wolverine by Arild Landa, Mats Lindén & Ilpo Kojola; Dr John D C Linnell; Europe’s Carnivores: A Conservation Challenge for the 21st Century by Lucy Farmer, Nicola Brewerton & Callum Rankine (WWF-UK report, 1999, ISBN No 1 85850 8. 25pp.)

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