People all over Europe used to consider the wolf as a beast in the past, and Slovakia was no exception. Due to the different speed at which industrialisation took place between Western and Eastern European countries, the wolf managed to survive in several locations. One of them were the remote corners of the Slovakian Mountains. During that period, people heavily persecuted the wolf in the entire country.
The government supported the persecution with a reward for killing a wolf. Hunters received money for every wolf they killed. In those times, legal wolf trapping and poisoned bait were also common methods to catch and kill a wolf. Later on, all these controversial methods of wolf killing became gradually illegal. Nevertheless, as a result of these pressures, the wolf that used to be present all over Slovakia, was only left to survive in the very northeastern corner of the country. This is also the place where the wolf population linked with the larger wolf population in Ukraine and Belorussia.
Please also read: Three reasons for killing Large Carnivores in Europe
Contradicting wolf quota
For the first time in the history of Slovakia, the wolf received partial protection only in 1975. In the following 20 years, the government controlled and regulated wolf hunting. Nevertheless, the wolf population did not recover, also because of illegal hunting.
This situation changed in 1995, when the wolf became a year-round protected species. Despite this, in 1996, the Slovak Government applied a reservation to the wolf (and the bear), which are in the Convention listed as strictly protected animals.
As a result, the Ministry of Environment issued a ministerial decree in 1999 to authorise the hunting of wolves from November 1st to January 15th. During this period, hunters could legally shoot entire packs. This decision followed the arguments that hunters reported 924 wolves at the territory Slovakia. The nature experts and environmental NGOs did not agree to that figure. Instead, they reported a population size of approximately 130 – 150 wolves. Despite of this contradiction, the wolf killing quota was 70-80 individuals annually for the following years.
Request for year-round protection
The Slovakian NGO Wolf with partners have been asking for implementation of all year-round protection of the wolf for years. This in order to prevent the annual disruption of wolf packs, for example when leader wolf-females were shoot.
The first success was in 2002, when the authorities designated a year-round protection zone for wolves in the north-west (Kysuce region) and south-east (Slovak Karst). It was the result of international pressures, because these areas are important corridors for expanding wolf populations. In addition, this process gradually developed further. Nowadays, wolves are protected in a contiguous strip of land along Slovakian boundary all year-round. This seems to be step in good direction, but it is not enough. People still kill a number of wolfs in Slovakia every year. In the 2017/2018 wolf hunting season hunters killed 40 wolves legally, and found 4 dead wolves, within the quota of 76.
Importance of regular wolf monitoring
To get correct information on the wolf population, the State Nature Conservation office in Slovakia runs systematic winter monitoring of large carnivores since several years. Monitoring focuses on the collection of faecal, urine, blood, and hair samples for DNA analysis. Results of this long term monitoring can be a solution to the different opinions between hunters and nature conservationists. That is, to answer the question: how many wolf are actually in Slovakia? A reliable answer can help to decrease and potentially stop controversial quota hunting.
Legal wolf hunting in Europe
The European Union designated wolf as a species of “community interest” requiring protection and conservation. Despite of that the wolf is legally hunted in several European countries such as Finland, Norway, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Sweden, Spain and Slovakia. This is happening despite of fact that European Commission consider a focused hunting (quota system) of the wolf to minimise their population as counter productive.