To the urban population, the issue of protection of wolves tends to be mired between the poles of unflinching support for these ultimate symbols of collective independence and primordial, blind fear of their threat to humankind. In the vastness of Finland’s distant wolf lands, the issue is of a far more mundane reality: their threat to the local economic stakeholders. In Lapland this means the reindeer herders.
While the average tourist sees either little more than a handful of tame beasts tethered to a kelkka, or perhaps only a stuffed exhibit in the capital area, the number of reindeer in commercial care in 2001 was 185,000. Every year, a percentage of these ultimate herbivores fall prey to the ultimate carnivore, with the clamour to add greater legislative protection to these interests growing progressively louder.
The granting of 15 wolf-hunting licences specifically for reindeer herding areas is based on estimates by the Ministry of Forestry of the number of wolves living there – between 30 and 35. The Finnish Nature League, Luonto-Liitto, and the equivalent feline protection group Wild Lynx both dispute these numbers.
“The fulfilment of these licences would indicate the extinction of wolves in the reindeer lands,” says Sami Säynävirta of the Finnish Nature League. “We must find ways for promoting coexistence between reindeer herders and wolves other than the legal slaughter of the latter.”
With both animals’ current population levels nominally under protection from Brussels, animal rights activists fear for the health of both lynx and wolf populations. The reindeer herding areas straddle the only migration pathway used by wolves roaming between the Nordic countries. Moreover, illegal poaching also poses a continuing current threat to the wolf numbers.
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Despite the increased wolf populations during this past decade, Ilpo Kojola of the Game and Fisheries Research Institute claims that nearly 30 per cent of current wolf deaths are due to illegal hunting. So instead of sitting innocently on some Santa’s reindeer skin-clad knee during the coming weeks, or venturing up to the Arctic Circle for a taste of the genuine winter, you might join the Wolf Action Group’s current campaign to write Santa a seasonal note – one of complaint against these new licenses. Future tourists might even be grateful.