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Saturday, 7 April, 2001, 06:18 GMT 07:18 UK
Lone wolf beats cull deadline
Grey wolf
Farmers say grey wolves are killing increasing numbers of sheep
The last member of a pack of 10 Norwegian wolves has cheated death after an order for his culling by the government expired at midnight on Friday (2200 GMT).

The lone wolf, nicknamed Martin by local animal rights groups, has been offered political asylum in neighbouring Sweden if he can make it to the border.

Norwegian authorities ordered the controversial cull after complaints from farmers that Martin and the rest of his pack were preying on their animals.

But the hunters had to put away their rifles at midnight, after officials turned down a request for an extension to the deadline for the end of the licenced hunt.

The hunt - which has taken place during the past two months near the south eastern town of Koppang - has sparked an outcry in Norway and abroad.

'Sheep killers'

Animal rights groups say the slaughter amounts to a crime against nature, and that the true wolf population is a fraction of the officially stated 100 animals.

Reindeer
Wolves threaten Reindeer herds
The hunters - equipped with helicopters and snowmobiles - managed to do away with nine wolves, but not Norway's increasingly famous lupine Houdini.

The wolf has been named Martin after Martin Schanche, a veteran Norwegian rally driver - one of the wolf's most ardent defenders.

Thanks to heavy falls of snow and rain, the elusive Martin managed to slip through the net and disappear without trace.

The operation is estimated to have cost taxpayers 3 million Kroner ($331,200) - about $36,000 for each wolf killed.

A successful reintroduction programme begun in partnership with Sweden in the mid 1990s has seen wolves return in increasing numbers to their traditional habitats.

However, although they only account for a fraction of Norway's livestock deaths, officials argue that the growing wolf population means their numbers need to be kept in check.

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See also:

08 Mar 01 | Europe
Wounded wolf reignites cull row
11 Feb 01 | Europe
Snow hampers Norway wolf cull
24 Feb 00 | Europe
Bringing wolves back to Sweden
25 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Wolves find haven in Italy
19 Feb 01 | Europe
First Norwegian wolf culled
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