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Monday, 19 February, 2001, 22:10 GMT
First Norwegian wolf culled
Hunters are planning to kill nine wolves
Hunters in Norway have killed their first wolf in a controversial cull which has been challenged by environmentalists and animal-lovers.

The government has authorised the killing of nine wolves out of about 100 believed to be living in remote forests and fjord regions.

The wolves under threat are blamed for the deaths of more than 600 sheep last year.

A first attempt to start shooting the wolves a week ago was disrupted by bad weather and animal rights protestors.

But Svein Norberg, a spokesman for the Directorate of Nature Management which is overseeing the cull, told Reuters news agency that weather conditions were now favourable and that the hunters had made contact with the nine wolves.

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.

Protesters have said they will not go home until the hunt is over, although legal attempts to appeal or postpone the hunt have proved fruitless.

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 of extinction

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

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

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 the species to be viable.

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See also:

11 Feb 01 | Europe
Snow hampers Norway wolf cull
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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