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By John Helmer, Moscow

If you are a dog, then you know that 99.96% of your genes are shared with the wild grey wolf; and that both of you evolved from Papa Canid. This doesn’t mean that if you meet each other in the wilds, you’ll not turn on your fire-control mechanism, like our Chinese friends are doing to the Japanese, much to the disapproval of sentimentalists in the Anglo-American press. These also share much of their genetic material with Papa Canid, though their evolution has been retarded.

Fire-control mechanisms behave er, mechanically – click, press, scan, fire. Last month Yegor Borisov, prime minister of the Sakha republic, in Russia’s fareast, issued an order permitting the killing of up to 3,000 wolves, and paying a bounty of Rb35,000 for each kill. Rb10,000 will come from the budgets of the five uluses (municipal districts) most populated at the moment with wolves. Another Rb25,000 will be paid by the Sakha Ministry of Agriculture. They will recoup some of the outlays when the wolf skins are turned by Yakutian manufactories into wolf hats, wolf coats, and souvenirs for sale. Advance orders can be telephoned this month to Sakhabult, the store for the National Consortium for Support of Professional Hunters, 25 Lenin Avenue, Yakutsk, telephone +7(4112) 45 32 27.

The hunting season for wolves is usually three months long. This year Borisov has ordered it extended to add to the number of wolves killed. According to Tatiana Obulahova, spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture in Yakutsk, it’s no simple matter ordering a larger cull, and expecting hunters to deliver. “There are plenty of hunters who want to go out and fire off their weapons, but not all have the required knowledge of these clever animals. Wolves won’t stop after they have been shot, like bears. So killing and catching a wolf is not easy.” For further encouragement to the experts, the Sakha government has also announced a prize for the best hunter, a snowmobile named after the republic’s most famous wolf huntsman, Anatoly Maximov.

At the same time, an American organization called Change.org has announced a signature drive for a petition calling on Borisov to stop the cull. The initiative for this petition comes from a British organization called All Animal Rights (AAR), whose operations are primarily focused on British territory.

Change.org is running about 60 petition drives at the moment on wolf subjects, protesting culls in several US states, Canada, Mexico, and Sweden. At present, the Sakha wolf petition has recorded 250 signatures and 474 non-signing supporters. How many are from Russia or Sakha isn’t known.

Change.org is actually a business, which scours the world for issues on which to launch petitions. These in turn are internet marketing platforms which the entrepreneurs at Change.org use to deliver advertisements for which they charge. The more signatures on a petition, the higher the charge-out rate for the ads. The more petitions in circulation, the more revenues. The organization website claims it is running petitions in 196 countries and has logged 136,699,864 signatures to date.

How much of this commercial operation goes to the dogs, er wolves, isn’t clear. The website claims “thousands of victories”. It also claims to be “a profitable venture with over 150 employees in 18 countries, growing by more than 2 million new users a month.”

As Change.org, which operates from California and New York, explains, “Change.org has a business model that allows us to grow rapidly and be financially self-sustaining, providing tens of millions of people with a free empowerment platform for change. But unlike many companies, our business is social good. Change.org is focused entirely on our mission of empowerment, and we are re-investing all our revenue into our service to users. This focus on mission instead of profit is why our name ends with “.org” instead of “.com.”

“We think the use of business for social good is one of the most exciting opportunities for advancing positive change in the world, and we’re proud to be certified as a B Corporation, a new class of companies dedicated to positive impact. This certification requires high standards of social and environmental performance set by an independent group, and we are proud to have been named among the top 10% of social good companies with a positive impact on the community.”

Here is Senior Campaigner Stephanie Feldstein with her wolves, er dogs.

Exactly what the social good means in Sakha, and for whom, isn’t up to the British, Americans, or the wolves to decide. Nor is up to the Swedes, far to the west, where another wolf cull is under way and where protesters recommend opening Sweden’s northern borders so that wolves on the run from hunters in Norway, Finland and Russia can take refuge.

Vladimir Krever is the head of the programme for bio-diversity at the Russian branch of World Wildlife Fund in Moscow. He believes the news coverage of the Sakha cull and the protest petition is misleading. “There is nothing at all unusual or extraordinary in what is happening in Yakutia [Sakha]. It happens almost every year in different regions of Russia – in Tuva, then somewhere else. In principle, the situation is similar, when a large predator, in this case a wolf, finds that his forest habitat is reduced and accordingly the number of his usual prey (wild deer, reindeer, rabbits, others). So he starts to go out to human settlements and attacks livestock. Tigers do the same, and all other predators. But this year, primarily due to journalists, a rather common situation has been exaggerated. But there is no longstanding damage to the wolf population. The number of wolves in Yakutia is estimated at somewhere between 3,500 and 6,000. Each year hunters shoot 500 to 600 animals. That is, even if they will be able to double that number – hard to believe – and they will take about a thousand animals, no ecological damage will ensue. The wolf quickly recovers his numbers.”

Krever also acknowledges there is a wolf catch option that is better than a cull. “What our western colleagues, who are calling for “animal love”, have been trying to tell [us] is that it’s better to catch the wolves and relocate them. However, the technique for mass trapping does not really exist. Secondly, there are wolves in all of Russia, so where to relocate them? All this means is that we will overpopulate another place – let’s say Moscow or Tver regions.”

Is there any likelihood that Sakha wolves might be saved from sudden death and transported to Britain, where the last grey wolf was killed in 1680 (England), 1743 (Scotland). This UK study points out that the type of person who signs wolf petitions usually lives at a great distance from a wolf habitat, and doesn’t own animals which wolves like to eat. “Attitudes to reintroductions of carnivores tend to be favourable among the general public, but negative amongst those seen to be adversely affected. There have been no reintroductions of large carnivores in Britain to date.”

The position is even testier in France, where wolves reintroduced in the Italian Alps twenty years ago have crossed into France, where they have been seen in the Var, Hautes Alpes, Lozere and the Pyrenees. The Pyrenean wolves may have come from Spain where the wolf count is almost as high as it is in Sakha.

Wolf conservation and reintroduction efforts in US states like Montana and Wyoming have proved so successful the species has been delisted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which means the previous hunting limits have been lifted. Debates in Canada over whether to save the caribou at the expense of the wolf, or vice versa, turn out to be fights over access to the mineral resources underneath their forest habitat.

Change.org was asked if it is prepared to donate part of its wolf petition earnings to arranging airfares and handling charges for a pack of Sakha wolves to relocate to a territory willing to accept them. There has been no reply at press time.

Note: This tale is told in memory of Lev Karpov, late professor at the Institute of USA-Canada, Russian Academy of Sciences; also a Tunguz hunter and fisherman of great skill, inexhaustible wit, and exemplary calm in the face of danger. He it was who once saved my life from a predatory pack of Yakut females.

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