New research finds whenever culling is permitted, the wolf population is reduced dramatically.
In recent years, legal killing of animals has been taken as a way forward to discourage illegal hunting and this strategy has been utilized in many parts of the world including Europe and the United States. New research suggests that the approach has backfired and allowing legal killing of threatened animals led to more poaching.
For decades, local and national authorities in countries like Finland, France, Sweden, Norway and the US have encouraged controlled killing of wolves, grizzly bears, big cats and other carnivorous animals in the name of conservation efforts. The idea is that controlled killing of animals will increase human tolerance for predators and prevent them from getting shot by people who perceive them as a threat. For instance, in Wisconsin 43 endangered gray wolves were permitted to kill. In Finland, 20% of wolf population was legally eliminated last year. It makes roughly 50 out of 250 individuals. But research suggests that the growth in wolf population has systematically reduced every time culling was allowed. The conclusion was drawn after examining the wolf population growth rates in Michigan and Wisconsin.
“Our is the first study to quantify this mechanism. What we found is that when the government allowed culling, the wolf population grew 25 percent less,” said Guillaume Chapron, an ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences who investigated the topic in collaboration with Adrian Treves, a conservation biologist at the University of Wisconsin.
“The idea that we need to kill to conserve larger carnivores – in light of our study, it does not make sense.”
To determine if the approach is productive or counterproductive, researchers used a complex method to measure wolf population growth over time, which takes into the account the number of wolves legally killed. They found whenever culling was permitted, a decrease in the population has been observed.
Researchers ruled out other improbable explanations such as migration of wolves and slow reproductive rate and concluded that poaching is the only valid explanation for the decline.
“For us scientists, it created a quasi-experiment that we would never have been able to setup otherwise.”Chapron said.
Very little scientific research has been done to support culling and latest research suggests that national authorities and wildlife conservation groups, who are in favor of legal hunting, should produce quantitative evidence before justifying this theory.
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Chapron and Treves also think that their research will fuel the longstanding, hotly debated issue of culling whether it is good or bad but it should help authorities to make reasonable decisions within the broader framework of threatened larger carnivores’ conservation.