Wildlife & Biodiversity

Politics over science: Experts slam Sweden’s wolf cull; say it should learn to live with large carnivores

The wolf cull in Sweden will worsen the ongoing effects of inbreeding among Sweden’s lupines, say experts

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Wednesday 15 February 2023
Photo from iStock for representation

Experts on wolves have criticised the killing of 54 wolves in Sweden February 7, 2023, as part of a ‘wolf cull’. The cull was undertaken after wolves killed more than 340 sheep in 2021, according to Swedish farmers.

The Swedish government in Stockholm has authorised the shooting of 75 of the country’s 460 wolves in its 2023 cull, more than twice last year’s figure, The Guardian reported.

“Wolves are a threat for those of us who live in rural areas,” the British newspaper quoted Kjell-Arne Ottosson, a Christian Democrat MP and vice-president of the parliament’s environment and agriculture committee as saying. “We have to manage that. We have to take this seriously.”

However, experts told Down To Earth that the results would be catastrophic.

Lauren Hennelly, a wolf researcher from the United States who is studying for a postdoctrate at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, told DTE that the wolf population in Sweden is already highly inbred and genetically isolated from other wolf populations in Eurasia.

“This high level of inbreeding has consequences on the health of the wolf population. Already scientists have documented that Swedish wolves have morphological anomalies and reduced litter sizes, likely due to inbreeding,” she added.

Hennelly warned that culling a large number of wolves in Sweden will prevent new wolves from entering the Swedish wolf population, thus further worsening the ongoing effects of inbreeding on the current population.

Other said the cull was a clear case of ‘politics taking over science’.

Shivam Shrotriya, a research biologist at Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, who specialises in the Himalayan or Woolly wolf, told DTE:

Multiple scientific studies have suggested inefficiency of lethal methods in preventing predation in livestock. It often results in site-specific perceived benefits to livestock owners. However, small populations of carnivores similar to wolves in Sweden can face severe threat to their survival due to culling.

He added that the killing of 340 sheep could not be a raison d’etre for a wolf cull.

“The killing of merely 340 sheep last year by the wolves is considered such a big loss that the government decides to bring down the wolf population of Sweden by about 40 per cent. This shows the intolerance of these well-educated and advanced societies. They could learn a lot on human-carnivore coexistence from countries like India,” Shrotriya said. 

The wolf cull in Sweden is happening at the same time as across the North Sea, the United Kingdom and Ireland mull over reintroducing wolves, brown bears and lynxes that have been extirpated from the islands of Britain and Ireland long ago.

“The conservation and management of large predators, especially gray wolves, is often highly controversial. I think the wolf culling in Sweden highlights the political and social complexities that will likely be encountered as gray wolves return to their former habitats in Europe, which are now mostly human-dominated landscapes,” said Hennelly.

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