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Wildlife Ecology 2004
Marit Brekk, veterinary student, English program, 1st year.
CONSERVATION OF WOLVERINES IN EUROPE
The wolverine, Gulo gulo, is a medium-sized carnivore and the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family Mustelidae. They occupy vast areas of the tundra and boreal forest in North-America, Scandinavia and Asia at very low densities.
Their appearance is somewhat bear-like, although movement and associated behaviour are distinctly characteristic of the weasels. Wolverines are powerfully built, with structural morphology apparently adapted for cold, harsh conditions. Like the Norwegian ecologist, who have done a lot of research on wolverines, Arild Landa, have said: “The wolverines are determined to win”. The dentition and associated musculature create a powerful bite and enable both sexes to forage on frozen meat and bone. Wolverines are considered to be scavenging predators because they feed largely on carrion like reindeer, moose, fox, hare, small rodents and sheep, but they will also consume berries, mushrooms, insects and birds. Wolverines are true generalists, able to switch between different foodsources depending on what is available.
Males (12-18 kg) are typically 30-40% larger than females (8-13kg).
After reading the ”Action plan for the Conservation of Wolverines in Europe” (http://www.coe.int/t/e/Cultural_Co-operation/Environment/Nature_and_biological_diversity/Publications/SN115-E.pdf),
worked out and written by Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish ecologists and nature
researchers, I decided to use this report as a source to find out about the
situation of the wolverine population in Scandinavia, with the mainlook on
In addition to their circumpolar distribution across Siberia and North-America, wolverines once occurred throughout the European
Today surviving populations are found in central and northern
Figure 1; Present day distribution of the wolverine in Europe.
(Enkarta encyclopedia, Mikrosoft
Until the beginning of this century, the species was distributed
throughout most of the forested and mountain areas as far south as the southernmost
The hunting statistics from Northern-Norway during this
century suggest pronounced fluctuations in population densities, and these
where extreme low when protection was introduced in 1982. However, populations
and distributions increased following this protection until 1993, when licensed
hunting was introduced. The population was estimated to be a minimum of 120
individuals during 1995-97, but seems to be decreasing, as revealed by a decreasing
number of active natal dens recorded during recent years. And today we find
the Gulo gulo under the categorie Vulnerable of threat in
Wolverines and humans
In the “Action Plan” I could read that the overall opinion
of the general public in
Wolverine predation on semi domestic reindeer is also well
So it is quite easy to understand that the most pronounced
negative attitudes in
How to live in harmony with the wolverine?
"There is still a lot of good wolverine habitat left
throughout the mountains and forests of Scandinavia,
(Dr John D C Linnell, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research).
Typically habitats for wolverines are steep mountain areas inaccessible for humans in general.
If the animals were given the chance to live in these areas, without disturbing from humans, we maybe didn’t have all this problems with them today. Instead increased constructions of roads into areas where people earlier had no access, have caused wolverines to avoid the disturbed areas. They have to search for new habitats, and suddenly the man and the wolverine must fight for the same areas to live.
To avoid problems like this we should let wild nature be wild, and don’t try to take the habitats from the wild animals, if we can’t manage to coexist with them.
Intensive grazing by sheep alters the conditions for small herbivores and then next also for other wildlife. This can affect the wolverines in a negative way, because the amount of natural prey will be reduced.
In this way I guess the farmers will experience that the amount of wolverines will be reduced in the areas where their sheep are grazing, and for them this will be good. And I believe that the wolverines are able to find other areas where they can live, where sheep farming is not that common/easy to practise.
But like I see it, overgrazing of huge areas is not a very good way to get off with the wolverines. Of course it maybe has its effect, and the conflict-area can be better utilized of the farmers, but overgrazing doesn’t only disturb the wolverine. The whole ecosystem will be hurt and in unequilibrium, and that is not what we want.
A very interesting, and not at least important part of the
report, is the chapter about Hunting, legal killing
and poaching (
This is one of the most discussed parts of the wolverine-conservation I guess. Not too many – Not too few. It’s all about finding the perfect equilibrium, where farmers can live without fright for the wolverines, and the threat they are against the livestock. But it is also very important to take care of the wolverines in a valuable way. All the poaching that is regularly revealed, and can be as high as 15-20% of the population, is frightened to read about.
Legal killing must occur, but in a restricted and controlled way, to try to make the situation acceptable both for the humans and the wolverine. Farmers that live in conflicts with the wolverine, have demands for killing permits. And all Fennoscandian countries offer compensation for livestock killed by wolverines.
I have now tried to discuss some of the problems about coexisting between human and wolverine. I have my opinions, but I have to say; I have never worked with this problem in practise, so maybe some of my thoughts about this are not very realistic.
Anyway is my main opinion after working with this report about wolverine conservation, that we have to take care of this fascinating, mysterious, but also very dangerous animal. All wild animals by the way. We don’t have the right to steal the areas they have been given on this earth. But because the human is the “strongest and the fittest”, it’s very easy to do things in a way that makes everything easy for ourselves. I think it’s important to keep in mind that wild animals and humans live in the same huge ecosystem, and that we both make an important role, but in different ways.
Scientific articles and literature I have used for the essay:
http://www..zoologi.no/fakta/jerv.htm (In Norwegian)
Encarta, encyclopaedia produced of Microsoft.