While preparing a document on transboundary conservation efforts between Slovakia and Hungary, I came across with an interesting example of conservation success in Slovakia. The Wolf (Vlk) Foundation with the leadership of Juraj Lukac run a successful campaign in 2015 in order to enlarge the no-hunting zone for wolf in Slovakia. Unfortunately most of the documentation about the campaign was in Slovakian; therefore I thought this success deserves larger attention and a short linkedin note.
I am always interested in stories linked to wolf, because most people saw the species as a beast (you remember Little Red Ridding Hood, don’t you?!). However the species is actually not really dangerous for human and I consider it as a key stone species for strengthening wilderness conservation in Europe.
According to wikipedia the Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus), also known as the common wolf is a subspecies of grey wolf native to Europe and the forest and steppe zones of the former Soviet Union. It was once widespread throughout Eurasia prior to the Middle Ages. The species currently occurs in most countries except in the Benelux countries, Denmark, Hungary and the island states (Ireland, Iceland, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Malta). The estimated total number of wolves in Europe seems to be larger than 10,000 individuals. While the population have been increasing or stable in most European countries since 2005, a few countries including Slovakia seen the wolf population estimates decreasing.
The decrease of the wolf population in Slovakia (partially due to more precise monitoring method) is a problem that goes beyond the boundaries of Slovakia. The country is at a crucial geographical location in terms of recovering healthy wolf population in Central Europe. Slovakia lies in the Western part of the Carpathian Mountains and might connect the healthy population of wolf in Romania and Ukraine with Czech Republic and Austria where the species does not have a stable population yet. Slovakia also serves as a source of wolves to Hungary where the population is still very low (only 2-3 packs).
The core problem is linked to the negotiation processes carried out during Slovakia’s accession to the European Union. The legal status of wolves in the European Union member state countries is directly specified in the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC). By default wolf populations are listed under Annexes II and IV. Annex II requires the establishment of Natura 2000 sites for the species while annex IV requires strict protection, prohibiting any destruction or damage to the population (but with derogations still possible under Article 16). During the accession negotiation process in the late 90s and Slovakia managed to get derogation and hunting of wolf – despite of its ‘strict’ protection – remained possible in the country. The hunting season for the species starts in every year from 1 November to 15 January Until 2013 it was possible wolf hunt everywhere except in small areas where it was determined his year-round protection – reserve (5th degree of protection) and migration areas in the Czech Republic and Hungary (part of Kysuce and Slovak Karst).
In 2013 and 2014, WOLF Forest Protection Association managed to achieve legislative changes so that the territories were added year-round protection of the wolf zone bordering with Poland. The inclusion of the border zone with Poland to areas year-round protection of the wolf was a resounding success, but still not sufficient. It was not into it included border area in the district L’ubovna, thus undermining the logical connection in the direction east – west.
In order to secure other wolf migration corridors Wolf Foundation suggested to enlarge the no hunting zone for the species. The proposed enlargement would have doubled the area where wolf hunting was banned throughout the year.
The foundation started a public campaign (entitled We Love Wolf – Máma Radi Vlkov in Slovakian) in order to generate public support for its proposal. Between the period of early April and end of October(roughly 7 months) they collected 25,000 signatures to support their case. The petition with the supporting signatures were presented to the Ministry of Environment of Slovakia (MoE) on 27 November 2015. The MoE finally accepted all requirements of the We Love Wolves campaign, so the no-hunting zone was significantly enlarged in Slovakia which gives hope for a successful wolf recovery in the Central European region. I am thankful for our Slovakian colleagues!
PS: Right after the submission of the petition to MoE on 27 November 2015, the campaign leader Mr. Juraj Lukac was physically attacked by unidentified people on the street of Bratislava. Nature conservation is proved to be a risky business