by Faye Whiley
Twitter: @FayeWhiley Instagram: @theconservationdiaries
As part of my scholarship, I was able to join the Slovak Wildlife society to monitor large carnivores and collect samples. My research focuses on social, environmental, and economic aspects of a lynx reintroduction in Scotland; therefore, it is important to understand the social issues in Slovakia where people are already living alongside carnivores. Three large carnivores currently inhabit Slovakia, the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus), and the brown bear (Ursus arctos).
During the 19th and early 20th century a reduction in prey and habitat availability, and an increase in persecution prompted a decline in the large carnivore population of Europe (Heurich et al. 2018). Over the last few decades, large scale afforestation, a recovery in prey numbers and increasing social tolerance led to large carnivores re-establishing their former ranges (Červený et al. 2019). However, the recovery of these species has not come without conflicts.
In Slovakia the Eurasian lynx is a protected species under international and national laws and are listed in the European Directive 92/43/EEC on the Habitat and Species Directive (Červený et al. 2019). Brown bears are also a protected species in Slovakia, but they are subject to legal hunting known as “protection shooting” and “regulation shooting” (Rigg and Adamec 2007). This is where problem bears involved in cases of conflict with people are removed (protection shooting), or individual bears are removed to control the population numbers (regulation shooting) (Rigg and Adamec 2007).
Wolves are partly protected and are harvested annually in an open season (for a period within the year) (Finďo et al. 2008). Limits are placed on the number of wolves that are allowed to be harvested, and these numbers vary between years. One method used to establish these limits are calculated from reported wolf observations on hunting grounds. Each hunting ground counts species numbers in their area and submits their data to the Ministry of Agriculture. Hunting grounds are smaller than wolf territories, and wolf territories cross numerous hunting grounds. This results in an overestimation of wolf numbers as individual wolves are counted multiple times.
Major discrepancies in wolf numbers after the previous annual hunting quotas were reported. Environmentalists stated approximately 150 individual wolves remained, whilst Slovakian game statistics reported over 2000 wolves remained. This highlighted an important need for an objective method to measure wolf population numbers. The Slovak Wildlife Society established a project to monitor and track large carnivores every January to evaluate the size of the wolf population. To estimate population numbers, a non-invasive genetic sampling method is implemented which involves collecting urine, faecal and hair samples. These samples are sent to an external laboratory for genetic analysis. This results in an estimation of wolf individuals and wolf pack numbers.
Table 1. An example of estimation of wolf numbers by non-invasive genetic sampling compared with estimations from hunting grounds and their discrepancies
|Estimation of Wolf Numbers||2018||2019||2020|
|Estimation from use of non-invasive genetic sampling||53||34||58|
|Estimation from hunters’ statistics||284||249||295|
|Discrepancy||x 5.36||x 7.32||x 5.09|
This objective estimation has been compared with hunters’ statistics (Table 1). The result from the non-invasive genetic sampling affirms that there are fewer wolves remaining in Slovakia than the hunters’ statistics, which suggests that previously the wolves may have been overharvested during open season.
Červený J, Krojerová-Prokešová J, Kušta T, Koubek P (2019) The change in the attitudes of Czech hunters towards Eurasian lynx: Is poaching restricting lynx population growth?. Journal for Nature Conservation 47: 28-37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnc.2018.11.002
Finďo S, Rigg R, Skuban M (2008) The wolf in Slovakia. Perspectives of wolves in Central Europe, 15-24. http://www.carnivoreconservation.org/files/meetings/wolf_central_europe_2008_czech.pdf#page=15
Heurich M, Schultze-Naumburg J, Piacenza N, Magg N, Červený J, Engleder T, Herdtfelder M, Sladova M, Kramer-Schadt S (2018) Illegal hunting as a major driver of the source-sink dynamics of a reintroduced lynx population in Central Europe. Biological conservation 224: 355-365. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.05.011
Rigg R, Adamec M (2007) Status, ecology and management of the brown bear (Ursus arctos) in Slovakia. Slovak Wildlife Society, Liptovský Hrádok, 128. https://www.selmy.cz/data/publications/26.pdf