Howling Controversy: Wolf-hunting draws protest as ministry forms bounty committee

News of a bounty on wolves announced last week has raised concern among environmentalists that the 100,000 drams (about $275) monetary award defined for a wolf hunt may cause the extermination of the wolf population in Armenia.

“The call to kill comes amid concerns that the wolf community has grown too large, and threatens livestock in remote villages, and thus the welfare of shepherds,” the February 10 government statement reads.

The government has allocated 10 million drams (about $27,000) from its reserve fund to the Ministry of Nature Protection of Armenia for the wolf extermination campaign, aiming to reduce the population by 100.

As environmentalists explain wolves are an essential part of nature in Armenia, as they help regulate balance by preying on other species.

The new program allows both shooting and trapping of wolves, and is open to anyone who buys a hunting license. Bounty will be paid to those who deliver a wolf hide to the Ministry of Nature Protection. As of today (February 16) the ministry reports it has not paid out any bounties.

In fact the ministry tells ArmeniaNow that it is still in the process of forming a committee to administer the bounties, after it has been clearly defined what constitutes a “wolf”. The ministry says it is currently deciding who should be members of the wolf committee.

“Wolves, in fact, disturb not villagers but the government itself, because they show what a poor condition our forests are in, how much the number of wild animals has decreased, so that wolves which are very careful and smart animals, and which are almost impossible to be hunted, put their lives at stake entering villages in order to survive, because they have no other alternatives,” says environmental activist Ovsanna Hovsepyan, on a social network site.

Environmentalists say that because of poaching, illegal logging and other ecological violations, wolves (believed to number several hundred) look for food sources in domesticated farm animals Vardges Khachatryan, Chairman of ‘Union of Hunters and Fishermen in Armenia’ NGO told ArmeniaNow that, in fact, the number of gray wolves has not increased very much, and are not a nuisance, “it was simply a government’s decree.”

“I was also invited to participate [in the government session], and I expressed our agreement, however, it [hunting] must be under our control, in order to prevent accidental hunting of other animals,” Khachatryan says. He is worried that, in the name of wolves hunters may take the opportunity of hunting other animals out of season.

The hunting period in Armenia starts in August and ends in February. It is noteworthy that before this decree, hunters could hunt wolves, jackals, magpies, and ravens free of charge, that is, without paying a hunter license fee (about $15).

Khachatryan says that it is very difficult to hunt a wolf, because it is a very careful animal, and if people have weapons on them, wolves usually keep out of range. He says, too, that a hungry wolf may cover 30-40 kilometers within a night.

“Wolves are mainly hunted at night, lighting the territory with lamps. Wolves may be found or they may not, in this case, hunters waste their time,” Khachatryan says.

He remembers that the same practices were applied during the Soviet period too, when a hunter who killed a wolf was paid 100 rubles, and if the hunting was done near the territories of enclosures, then the monetary award was doubled.

“But then wolf hunting was permitted only during the hunting period,” Khachatryan says.

Wolf hunting is banned in some European countries, for example, in France.

Currently Armenian environmentalists are preparing a letter to express their discontent on wolf hunting, addressed to the prime minister and nature protection minister.