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The BBC's Tony Samstag in Oslo
"The basis for a serious diplomatic break with Sweden"
 real 28k

Saturday, 10 February, 2001, 11:34 GMT
Wolf cull sparks howls of protest
Grey wolf
Blamed for livestock deaths, but fights shy of humans
A controversial cull of the protected grey wolf has begun in south-east Norway, bringing to a head a row between the government and environmentalists.

The wolf population is growing fast, so there is nothing dramatic about culling a few

Rendalen Mayor Erling Myhre
The wolf is an endangered species in Europe but the Norwegian authorities say nine - out of a total population of about 100 across Scandinavia - must be killed because they are causing serious damage to livestock.

Some two dozen hunters on skis and snowmobiles have been given until April to kill the animals, with helicopter back-up if necessary.

Conservationists have denounced the cull and protesters are threatening to disrupt it by a variety of means, including the use of hot air balloons.

The authorities in neighbouring Sweden, which co-operates with Norway to manage the wolf population along the common border, are vehemently opposed to the plan.

They say it could threaten the survival of a species which the two countries have been helping to reintroduce to the forests of Scandinavia since the mid-1990s.

Threat to locals

But the Norwegian Government says wolf packs are growing too fast and blames them for killing more than 600 sheep last year in the area around Koppang, 200km (125 miles) north of the capital, Oslo.

It is a difficult job - wolves are smart animals and have good instincts

Lead hunter Leonhard Mikalsen
It says the wolves in question must be shot because they have moved into a valley outside the zone designated for them.

"The wolf has been at our nurseries, it's been in our barns, it kills livestock right up to our houses and it is undermining deer hunting," said Erling Myhre, mayor of nearby Rendalen.

"We're not wolf haters, but we have to live here too."

Norwegian opinion, however, has generally been critical of the cull, particularly as it comes on the heels of the government's repeal of its ban on whale meat exports.

"It's pretty emotional," said Leonhard Mikalsen, the man leading the hunt. "But I think most people understand that we are just doing a job."

The identities of the other marksmen have been kept secret because of fears for their safety.

Numbers row

Wolves were hunted to near extinction in southern Scandinavia until a hunting ban was imposed in the 1970s.

The Norwegian authorities, whose original plans to kill 20 wolves were scaled down amid public outcry, say there are now about 12 families, or 120 wolves in the area.

Environmentalists, however, say most of the packs are in Sweden, and want to see numbers grow.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) recently put at between 51 and 80 the number of wolves in the area, far short of the 500 it says are necessary for stocks to be viable.

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24 Feb 00 | Europe
Bringing wolves back to Sweden
31 Jul 99 | Europe
Wolf worries in French Alps
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