‘It’s very scary in the forest’: should Finland’s wolves be culled?
Europes wolf population is on the rise and in Finland, their future hangs in the balance. Are they a threat to humans, or should they be protected?
The story of a kill is told in the snow. On the Finnish island of Porosaari, we find the first paw print. Thats a male, says Asko Kettunen, retired border guard, hunter and tracker. How can he be sure? Its big.
Five ravens rise from dark pines, croaking in the icy silence; they will scavenge anything caught by the wolves. We wade through knee-deep snow. Theres a spot of vivid blood and a tuft of moose hair, cleanly cut, which Kettunen deduces has been ripped from a living animal. This, he says, is the moment the wolves made contact. First they try to puncture the intestines; if they succeed, the moose may run on, but the damage is done.
We find moose tracks, each hoof print far apart: the animal was running. Kettunen points to wolf prints on either side, to where a second and third wolf joined the chase. There are blood spots and more hair and a pine sapling snapped in two. The moose collided with a tree, so it was not that well, Kettunen says, with Finnish understatement.
There are spots of blood by every moose print now. Finally, up the hill, is the kill zone. A young moose has been reduced to two front legs and a skin detached precisely from the body, intestines that spill like butchers sausages and a mound of freshly chewed grass where its stomach once was. Kettunen thinks that five wolves feasted here the previous night. We find faeces and a curved bed of snow where a contented wolf took a postprandial doze.
Finland has a wolf problem. Five and a half million humans share the country with an estimated 235 wolves, and thats too many, say rural Finns, whose livestock and hunting dogs are being killed. Some parents are scared that wolves will attack their children. Before, wolves were afraid of people, Kettunen tells me. Now people are afraid of wolves. For the past three years, the government has assuaged these fears with a wolf cull. Last winter, 43 wolves were killed in a management hunt, while total fatalities numbered 78, including problem wolves shot by police and road casualties.