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The wolf in the Scandinavian countries

THE WOLF POSSESSIVES A FANTASTIC CAPACITY to adapt to different types of nature. Wolves have been found, in earlier times over the whole of the Scandinavian Peninsula. After the latest ice-age the wolf immigrated from the South, at approx. the same period of time the wild reindeer and the elks migrated here. Since those times, the wolf has been a natural part of Scandinavian nature and cultural history. The Swedish word for wolf, “varg” is preserved in a large number of geographical names, places, lakes and mires. Also, the name of more than 100 Swedish communities does comprise the word “varg”. Apart from this, man has for centuries tried to limit the freedom of life, for the wolves in Scandinavia.

AS EARLY AS THE 12TH CENTURY some paragraphs made part of the Swedish local law enforcement that required farmers to keep with various means to capture wolves e.g. Lapp tyg (pieces of red textile on lines, hanging on wolf’s eye height), wolf net or wolf traps. Crofters and farmers often were forced to participate in drive hunts, where several thousands of people built chains to capture a wolf. Those, not participating, were fined. In the year 1647 shooting premiums on wolves were introduced. Notwithstanding all of this, in the 17th century several thousands of wolves were living inside Sweden. In 1789 legal periods for hunting wolves were introduced, and parallel with that the rights for farmers to hunt elks, roe deer, wild boar and deer on their own grounds tended to strongly reduce the presence of preys for the wolves. Around 1840, roe deer were only found on some estates in the province of Skåne, whilst the elk had been reduced to a rarity in the woods of Sweden.

IT MEANT THAT THE WOLF got more and more problems to capture wild food in the forests. Simultaneously the farmers kept more and more cattle in the woods making the wolves concentrating more and more upon tame cattle.

Many families were hit heavily by wolf pack attacks on their cattle. In the year 1821 a wolf, later called the Gysinge wolf, killed and ate a total of nine children. This stimulated the will of the Swedes to totally exterminate the wolf in their country. The Gysinge wolf had grown up in captivity; it was set free in nature as a grown-up animal. It had never learned to hunt.

The attacks of the Gysinge wolf are the sole, well documented cases of lethal attacks of wolves upon human beings in Sweden.

WITH THE HELP OF POISON, wolf traps, bullets and gun powder the wolf was rapidly exterminated in the southern part of Sweden. During the period

1827 – 1839 a total of 6 790 wolves were killed in Sweden, 271 of these in the province of Stockholm. The fastest reduction of the number of wolves took place in 1840 – 1860. More ground was taken in use for agricultural purposes. Together with the spread of animal diseases the options for survival for the wolf got and more reduced.

The wolf was pressed more and more to the north and survived there as single animals, spread widely in the mountains to live a solitary life.

The return of the wolf

WITH THE HELP OF RESEARCH INTO THE GENES OF THE WOLVES it has been proven, that there is no relationship between the present wolf pack in Sweden and Norway and the wolf pack that lived here earlier. Neither is there a relationship with the wolves that have been planted out in nature from Swedish’ zoo, whatever the rumors say. DNA research exclude this in a scientific way and the rumors remain what they are “rumors. They may rather be related to Finnish/Russian wolves as concluded by the likeliness of the genes in both geographical groups.

The first rejuvenation from the newly immigrated wolves took place – as far as we know today – in the year 1983 in Nyskoga in Värmland. All wolves presently living in Sweden, originate from these two wolves plus a third one that immigrated 1990 – 1991. The latter wolf as well – as proved by genetical analyses - originates from Finland/Russia.

North American history

THE IMMIGRANTS FROM EUROPE INTO NORTH AMERICA took their attitudes versus the wolf with them. As settlers, fur hunters and cattle owners established themselves on new grounds, conflicts arose. Fur hunters (trappers), concentrated in first instance on beavers. In the middle of the 1800’s these trappers cached up to 500 000 beavers annually.

But the wolf too liked the beaver. And the wolf got blamed for the reduction in the beaver populations. The humans, moreover, hunted other wild game intensively. The bison became exterminated in one federal state after another. Also deer and antelope numbers were reduced strongly. This made life for the wolves more and more difficult. And with the reduction of natural prey, the wolf got more and more interested in tame cattle.

Shooting premiums were introduced, the prices of wolf skin soared, and professional wolf killers, so called “wolfers” were extremely effective. They specialized in preparing freshly shot bison ox, roe deer, elks and other game, with the poison strychnine, which then killed the wolves (and many other animals simultaneously).

Just in the federal state of Montana, in the period 1870 – 1877 approx.

100 000 wolves were killed. And a further 83 000 in the period 1883 – 1892, the biggest wild animal slaughter ever recorded.

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE 1940’S THE WOLF was nearly exterminated in the USA. Just a few packs of wolves survived in the states of Alaska and Minnesota. However in Canada, in between the two federal states still a large population of wolves was alive. From Canada and Minnesota the wolf species spread to within and around the USA. Apart from that, wolves were actively planted out in some of the areas.

A project was started for the reintroduction of the wolf in the state of Idaho and in the big Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The decision for planting in wolves there was taken in 1994.To support this (political) decision it also was decided, that wolves that killed tame cattle were allowed to be killed.

Wolves for “outplacement” purposes were catched in Alberta, Canada. In the Yellowstone National Park three wolf families with a total of 14 animals were set free.

During the first year two litters were born. In one of the flocks 8 cubs were born, in the other flock one cub. In the state of Idaho 15 younger wolves, also originating from Alberta, were set free. In 1996 another 20 wolves were outplanted in Yellowstone and 17 in Idaho. These wolves had been captured in British Columbia.

The outplacements proved to be successful. In the year 2003 a total of approx. 300 wolves were living in either area. The public opinion in the USA has converted the last 20 years, into a positive attitude versus the wolf.