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

Sunday, 11 February, 2001, 20:46 GMT
Snow hampers Norway wolf cull
Grey wolf
Grey wolf: Accused of killing sheep
A heavily-criticised cull of Norwegian grey wolves has begun in south-east Norway, amid fierce protests from environmentalists and alleged death threats to hunters.

I will stay here for as long as it takes ... [we are] determined to stop a massacre

Svein Sorli
A group of 23 hunters plan to kill a pack of nine wolves, out of the Scandinavian population of 100, which are said to have killed large numbers of sheep.

Their first day of hunting was hampered by bad weather and no wolves were spotted.

The species is endangered in Europe but the Norwegian authorities have given hunters until April to kill the animals, with helicopter back-up if necessary.

Conservationists have denounced the cull and the hunters, travelling on skis and snowmobiles and armed with rifles and shotguns, were confronted by anti-hunt protesters who had camped out in the forest nearby.

The hunters took no notice and maintain they will stay out in the forests for a week at a time, although protesters say they will not go home until the hunt is over, despite temperatures as low as -30C (-22F).

"I will stay here for as long as it takes," declared Svein Sorli, 27, who said he was "determined to stop a massacre."

Environmentalists hope a court on Tuesday will rule the hunt illegal.

Telephone threats

"The hunters have received anonymous telephone threats," said Svein Norberg, spokesman of the Directorate of Nature Management which is overseeing the cull.

On Sunday, hunters unrolled almost 3km (two miles) of bright yellow and red tape in the pine forests, hoping to direct the wolves towards sharp-shooters.

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.

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.

The identities of most 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.

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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See also:

24 Feb 00 | Europe
Bringing wolves back to Sweden
31 Jul 99 | Europe
Wolf worries in French Alps
25 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Wolves find haven in Italy
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