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'The big bad wolf' or 'The ''wolf-problem'' in Finland'

Since earliest childhood, I am fascinated by wolves. I have read pretty much every German and English book, study and article about wolves and - of course - watched pretty much every documentary about them too. At younger age, I also had the privilege to meet wolves in research stations and sanctuaries up close.

I don't consider myself a nature protection activist. I do have my opinions about some things, but usually, I don't get very much involved in any kind of activity. I did raise a few wild animal babies in my life and released them, mostly birds, but again, that was mostly coincidental.

Since I moved to Finland in 2007, however, I was confronted with the "wolf-problem" much more often and so I finally decided to write an article about that "wolf-problem" from my point of view.

Beware: If you hate wolves and are easily offended, do not continue reading! The topic is important to me and I usually say/write what I think in very clear words - and I'm rather well-known (notorious?) for my honesty and directness than for my diplomatic skills.

The "wolf-problem"

The "wolf-problem" in Finland is basically the same as pretty much everywhere in the world where big predators live in the wild: Humans are either afraid of them or see them as competitors for space or food. In Finland, this has grown into a cold war between anti-wolf activists on the one side and nature conservationists on the other. According to EU regulations, the wolf is a highly protected species and cannot be hunted. However, the Finnish government has submitted to the pressure of a small group of people which lives in rural areas where wolves live too and is granting limited hunting licenses for "population control". This again has incited a conflict between Finland and the EU and so on and so forth.

Interesting facts

No, I'm not going to write my own version of an educational text about wolves now. There's a ton of information in books, studies and most of it is available from the internet. However, a few facts are worth mentioning in preparation of my personal statement on the issue:

  1. There has been no recorded fatal attack from wild wolves on humans in Europe since the 19th century
  2. In Finland, every year, 10 people get killed by moose and another 300 get injured
  3. In August 2013 alone, 22 people were killed and 704 people were injured in 581 traffic accidents in Finland (source: stat.fi)
  4. In 2010, 1962 persons in Finland died from alcohol-related causes, 1556 of whom from alcohol-related diseases and 406 from alcohol poisonings (source: Valvira)

Personal experiences

Besides the mentioned encounters when I was younger, I had a few direct and indirect encounters with wolves in Finland.

In winter 2007/2008, shortly after I moved into my apartment, I attached fat balls for birds right outside the living room window. Some morning, the fat balls were all gone and some footprints were in the snow which were identified as wolf prints by a neighbor.In the same winter, I saw 2 wolves about 200m from me while walking a track in the forest. They watched me and my 2 dogs for a moment and then disappeared.

In summer 2010, when staying with my then-girlfriend in their summer cottage, I noticed nervous behavior of my dogs, especially Shadow - who has seen wolves before up close in a zoo. My then-girlfriend and me decided to go for a walk in the forest that night to try to find out, what's going on. We took only Shadow with, because he is well trained and always in control. Athos had to wait in the car. During the walk, I was pretty sure that we were being stalked by wolves. We did hear little sounds and Shadow stayed very close and listened in all directions. Also, when we were coming back, Athos was not barking in the car and there were 2 huge dirty wolf-footprints on the side of my freshly-washed car. A bit later, I went out in front of the cottage with some dog food and actually, 2 wolves showed themselves, but never came closer than about 30m although I deliberately tried to appear small and harmless.

In 2011, while attending a Finnish language course, I walked every morning with my dogs about 3km through the nearby forest. A few times, I was positive that we were being stalked, because I heard respective noises and Shadow - again - was very attentive, nervous and stayed very close to me. But I didn't see any wolf directly.

At no time, I felt in any way threatened in any of those encounters. I always had the distinct impression that the wolves were somewhat curious - probably about my dogs - but carefully kept their distance.

Common anti-wolf arguments in Finland

Again, if you hate wolves and are easily offended, I advise you to stop reading now. You are not going to like what I have to say!

1. The wolves will lose shyness and start attacking people. They already have been in peoples' back yards

The back yard thing is somewhat of a valid concern, however it's not the fault of the wolves and definitely no reason to kill them. The problem is human-made. Wolves are very opportunistic. If they can get food the easy way, they take the chance. Well, wouldn't you?
The key is to not let them find food. Don't put anything edible to your trash. Don't let potential prey animals roam free in your back yard. Build a fence. If a wolf can't find food from your back yard, the place becomes pretty uninteresting for it.

Also, just because a wolf comes to the back yard, it doesn't mean, it has lost it's shyness and will attack! Wolves are also very curious. If, however, a wolf is in your back yard with pups or you corner it, it might attack. But then again, can you blame it? If a stranger would come too close to my kids, I'd also react offensively. Wouldn't you?

In general, wolves don't attack humans. End of story. No, really!
As I wrote in point 1 of my facts list, there has been no recorded fatal attack from wild wolves on humans in Europe since the 19th century!
First of all, wolves are extremely careful and shy in general. Then, the average pack size in Finland is very small, around 4 or 5 individuals.
4 or 5 wolves gladly attack a moose or a deer but wolves are also very intelligent and they know that humans are a bit more clever than a moose, so they won't risk a confrontation if not forced into one. Additionally, in Finland they find more than enough food from the forest so there is no need whatsoever for wolves to go after humans. For them, it's simply not worth the trouble.

2. The wolves will attack our children on the way to school

Really? If your childrens' way to school goes through a forest or otherwise lonely area, you seriously let them walk alone? And now you are concerned about wolves?
Sorry, but if you let your children walk alone through the forest or a lonely area, wolves are your least problem!
Besides other animals - bears, moose, deer, wolverine, lynx, kyykärme, etc.,  there's cars in general, cars which drive too fast, cars with drunken drivers and last but not least - human predators - child abusers.
If your children live more than a couple of hundred meters from their school, you should anyway bring them there and pick them up yourself or kick your local traffic company's butt to arrange a school bus!

3. Wolves kill dogs in the yards

Wolves are predators. That's what they do. If you don't want wolves in your yard, put up a fence! Besides the fact, that keeping a dog on a leash in the yard - in my opinion - is animal cruelty, it's also like a written invitation for a wolf.
If you go to a bar, put your wallet on the table and turn away, the wallet will likely be gone after a short while. Sorry, pal. Own fault.
Same with wolves... If you live in a wolf area and keep a dog on a leash in the yard, it's not the wolves' fault when they take it. It's your's! You should have known better!

4. Wolves kill hunting dogs in the forest

Wolves are highly territorial animals and they do recognize that your dog is some strange kind of wolf. If they are not scared away by you, they will approach your dog and tell it to get the hell out of their territory. Problem is, dogs don't really understand wolves anymore. And wolves don't really understand dogs because their bodylanguage has developed too far apart.
Imagine the following: Some guy comes to your yard and starts killing and eating your chicken or stealing your apples from the trees. You probably will go there and tell the guy in Finnish to get the hell off your land.
But the guy doesn't react to you, blabbers some stupid baby-language and continues taking your stuff. After a while, you would probably lose your patience and just try to beat the shit out of that guy to get him off your land, right?
So what, if the guy fights back, maybe even when your kids are also in the yard? Chances are, at some point, the intruder would get seriously injured or even killed, depending on how strong and with what measures he fights back.
That's exactly what usually happens when a hunting dog runs into wolves in the forest.
So, if you live in a wolf area, keep your dogs close to you or make enough noise that the wolves know there's humans around and have the chance to get out of the way!

5. Wolves kill lifestock

Again, wolves are predators. That's what they do. And again, if you don't want wolves close to your lifestock, put up a fence.
Wolf-safe fences are too expensive you say? Then you have a different problem: Wrong ressource management.
Come on, you know that you live in a wolf area! If you want to keep lifestock, you also have to make sure, you can maintain it properly.
You also don't buy a car if you know that you can't afford the gas, do you?
And if the gas is too expensive, what do you do then? Are you going to kill the gas-station guy?

6. Wolves kill game - there's less for me to hunt

And for the third time... Wolves are predators. That's what they do. But - opposite to humans, wolves kill strictly only what they need to survive (and to defend themselves), never for fun or out of malice.
So, let me ask you a question: If you have a few deer or moose less to hunt, does it threaten your existence? Are you in danger of starvation? Or are you just annoyed that somebody or something messes with your favorite hobby?
Wolves also usually only hunt old and weak prey or careless young animals (which is good, because carelessness is a bad thing to procreate). And they also eat animals they didn't kill themselves, like e.g. a moose that died of old age, so they clean up the forest.
Besides, with 90000 moose (2008, Riistakeskus), 50000 white-tail deer (2010, Riistakeskus) and 20000 roe deer (2011, Riistakeskus) in Finland, it is very unlikely that a handful of wolves (120-135 individuals, 2013, RKTL) could have a noticeable impact on the population of those.
And even if they have - some less moose and deer wouldn't be that bad, looking at the number of traffic accidents they cause.
And - did you know that wolves regulate their breeding according to the amount of food they find? Means, if there's less prey, wolves produce less puppies! That is an automatic regulation mechanism to prevent wolves from extincting their prey. Pretty clever, eh? More clever than humans anyway...

Conclusion

My conclusion is pretty simple. The "wolf-problem" is not a wolf-problem. It's a human-problem. Specifically, it's a mix of humans either lacking knowledge or being ignorant of the facts and therefore being scared. And of course, humans being egoistic and egotistical, not respecting nature and putting themselves above everything else.

Come on... You don't believe in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus anymore. Why do you still believe Grimm's fairytales of the big bad wolf? Learn, get informed and show a bit respect for the nature and for a highly social and incredibly intelligent animal!

With a bit of understanding and respect and proper behavior, wolves and humans can coexist without ever having problems with each other. After all, that is how many thousand years ago the dogs evolved. From wolves that associated themselves with humans and humans who respected the wolves for what they were and teamed up with them for mutual benefit.

Did you know that Native Americans often hunted together with wolves? They didn't train the wolves in any way. Humans and wolves just figured out that if the wolves chase and corner the game, the humans can shoot more and in return, the humans left some of the game for the wolves.

Mutual respect and understanding is the key!

Feedback

If you like or hate this text, you are welcome to leave me some feedback by email.
Please feel free to use "direct" language if you must, but stay somewhat civilized! Finnish language is also ok, but please try to use "kirjakieli", because I don't understand "puhekieli" very well.
Notice: I might decide to publish your feedback on the website, especially if it's very good, very bad or otherwise very interesting!
Please don't send me threats! First of all, I'm not afraid of you and second, the Police has enough and more important other things to do than investigating some threats ;).

tjs2poster

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