This story is based on the original coverage of Meta.mk. An edited version is republished here under a content sharing agreement between Global Voices and the Metamorphosis Foundation.
The wolf (Canis lupus) in North Macedonia is widely considered a pest and is regularly killed, despite its key role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. It is one of the three large predators that inhabit the mountains of the country, along with the bear and the Balkan lynx, but it is the least protected.
Hunters are encouraged to hunt and kill the creature and even receive a monetary reward for killing one. However, environmental associations are sounding the alarm that the wolf population is declining, which could have devastating impacts on the mountain ecosystem. It is estimated that there are currently more than 400 wolves in the forests of North Macedonia, which in addition to being legal hunting prey, face other threats, including hybridization with dogs.
According to the current hunting laws in North Macedonia, the wolf, along with the fox, marten, weasel and many other animals and birds, are free prey for hunters, as there are no temporary or permanent bans on hunting them. The Ministry of Agriculture also offers monetary rewards for killing “dangerous” wild animals. Hunters can earn around €50 (about $50 at current exchange rates) for killing a wolf.
“The law must be changed and the hunting of the wolf must be limited by means of hunting bans because its population in the country is constantly declining,” says Dime Melovski of the Ecological Society of Macedonia in a statement to Meta.mk.
He points out that while permanent protection is not a good solution, the government needs to set hunting restrictions for certain periods. He also suggests enacting quotas to limit hunting, depending on the exact number of wolves in hunting grounds. Melovski says more sophisticated counting methods such as genetic counting should be applied as the current wolf count is very likely to be inaccurate and there will be some count overlap as the wolf lives and feeds in large territories. He is stressed:
We are perhaps among the last countries in Europe where the wolf is considered a pest and the killing is not limited, and there is a reward, moreover, which serves as additional motivation to kill wolves, both for hunters and for livestock. Breeders
One of the biggest problems in the efforts to protect the wolf, according to Melovski, is the open promotion of hunting tourism and the attraction of foreign hunters to the country, which must stop immediately. He says that the lack of restrictions encourages the organization of hunting campaigns because foreign hunters in this country only have the opportunity to shoot a wolf.
Wolves in North Macedonia mainly inhabit mountains and prefer forests and sometimes visit lowland agricultural areas near villages.
According to Vojo Gogovski, state advisor for forestry and hunting at the Ministry of Agriculture, the wolf population in the country is around 400 individuals and remains stable. North Macedonia has the largest and oldest wolf population in Europe. The count is carried out periodically, at least every ten years, within each hunting reserve in the country. In a statement to Meta.mk, Gogovski explained:
For big game and small game there is a methodology for collecting data on the amount that is accepted in all corners of Europe and in our country. You can make a count or estimate the number, and from it the dynamics of annual growth are defined. If necessary, in five years or less, the planning documents can be revised.
New hunting regulations are being prepared, and the proposed bill has been in public consultation since April 2021. The published draft continues to list the wolf among unprotected wild animals, and also allows night hunting and the use of spotlights. It also allows the Ministry of Agriculture to issue rewards.
At one point, the wolf was under protection, but Gogovski says that at that point, the population spiraled out of control. Domestic livestock suffered, and numerous losses were attributed to the large wolf population. Though because there was no requirement to tag cattle ears, these numbers are likely inflated because citizens could receive compensation from the state for wolf-related deaths. He stated:
There is no one who cares more about the protection of the wolf than we do. Real hunters take good care of animals. The population is stable, and that is because we are taking care of the game that is its food. But the number must be kept at a certain level. So far, there has been no case where monetary reward has been the motive for murder; instead, more often than not the motive has been the protection of domestic livestock. I assert that there is no such thing as a classic wolf hunt.
The environmental organization Eko-svest (Eco awareness) recently, on World Wolf Day (August 13), called for precautionary measures to ensure that wolves remain in our forests, where they belong. Environmentalists believe that although modern lifestyles often bring humans into conflict with wolves, wolves are necessary and invaluable in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Their impact as predators changes the behavior of other animals, protects forests from parasites, and even protects rivers from erosion and damage. His statement read:
The wolf in this country is placed in the near threatened category (NEW TESTAMENT). The reason for this is that it is considered a harmful wild animal, which is why commercial hunting is organized throughout the year and, in addition, new infrastructure projects are fragmenting its habitats. According to official estimates, more than 400 individuals live in our country, but their population is not regularly monitored.
Worldwide, the wolf is protected by three international conventions: The Washington Convention (CITES – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora); then Annexes II, IV and V of the Habitats Directive in the EU, and is listed as a strictly protected species in Annex II of the Bern Convention.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the wolf as “least concern” in Europe, because although it is nationally endangered or vulnerable in several countries, it is increasing at a European level in both numbers and range. However, wolves are still legally hunted in several European countries that are not members of the European Union, including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, North Macedonia, and Albania. Wolf hunts are also a tourist attraction in many countries. Limited legal hunting also takes place in Finland, Norway, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia.