August 18, 2011

Swedish Wolves Threatened By Poaching

According to a new study, over half of all deaths of Swedish wolves are due to illegal poaching.

The researchers found that two-thirds of poaching goes undetected.  They suggest that without the past decade of poaching, Swedish wolves would be four times more abundant than they are today.

"Many have speculated that poaching levels are high for many threatened species of carnivores," Chris Carbone from the Zoological Society of London said in a press release.

"This study presents an important step in trying to quantify this hidden threat," he added.

The study predicts the size of the Swedish wolf population each year based on counts from the year before.

These counts are based on radio-tracked wolves and the more traditional "footprint count" used in Sweden for over 10 years.

The team estimates took account of confirmed cases of wolf mortality, like a wolf being hit by a car or dying from disease.

However, once the researchers compared the expected numbers produced by their models to the actual number of wolves in the wild they found that they were over estimating the size of the population.

Guillaume Chapron, a conservation biologist, said he suspects that "cryptic poaching" accounts for this difference.

He said the poaching we see is the "tip of the iceberg", while researchers believe that without the last decade of poaching, wolves would have four times the population reported in 2009.

Swedish wolves went extinct in Sweden in the 1970s, and the population has since re-established itself after a handful of migratory Finnish wolves took over the empty territories.

All of 250 Swedish wolves today have descended from these few founding individuals.

The population of the dogs are so highly inbred that they suffer from skeletal abnormalities and problems in reproducing.

Chapron said that further reducing the number of wolves by poaching leaves this population vulnerable to further inbreeding.

The researchers reported their findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


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