Legally Killing Wolves Is Putting Them More at Risk from Poachers
Two grey wolves. Image: Caninest/Flickr


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Legally Killing Wolves Is Putting Them More at Risk from Poachers

Some governments say legal wolf culls strengthen conservation efforts, but others think differently.

It might sound crazy, but for the past few decades, governments from the US to Finland have asserted that legal wolf culls actually help conserve these wild predators by deterring poaching.

But in a study published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers have used mathematical modelling to rebut this claim.

By looking at wolf population data sets in the US states of Wisconsin and Michigan from 1995 to 2012, the study found that government-endorsed legal wolf (Canis lupus) culls were more likely to increase poaching because people's perception of the animal as an endangered species became skewed.


In a nutshell, the study analyzes the wolf population's rate of growth by using mathematical modelling to find out how widespread poaching was in the area, and to determine how their growth rate had been affected by the state's culling laws.

"Governments advocate the killing of large carnivores in order to increase their acceptance by people, and to decrease poaching—this is the "killing to conserve" hypothesis," said Chapron, study co-author and associate professor at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, over the phone.

Chapron said that this method had been proposed for wild carnivores such as bears and wolves in a bid to help with conservation and management issues in areas of dense human settlement. However, he said that the efficacy of these methods had never been scientifically evaluated by state authorities.

The researchers chose wolf population data from annual reports and databases compiled in Wisconsin and Michigan—states that are subject to frequent governmental policy changes as wolves swung from being listed as endangered one year and unlisted the next on 12 separate occasions. They found that wolf populations did not grow in these areas—when the culling permits were in place—even after quotas had been decided upon.

"We found that when the wolves were not protected they were more likely to have a population decline—we can infer that this is likely caused by poaching," said Chapron, who ruled out the possibility of wolves recognizing that they were under threat, and migrating into other states.

The researcher's study also excluded other variables, notably "density population," which leads to wolf populations shrinking as some packs move out due to overpopulation.

From these preliminary findings, Chapron predicted that keeping protections on wolves in place would probably help them more than legal culling campaigns that permitted controlled killing, but inadvertently encouraged poaching.

"We will keep looking at the poaching debate and whether the effect of killing wolves as a policy achieves its objective or not as this current study suggests that it doesn't," said Chapron.