An unusual number of wolf sightings have been reported of late in western Uusimaa, mostly in an area some 80 km west of Helsinki. The Finnish Wildlife Agency says a wolf pack has set up a new territory there.
This autumn it granted an exceptional license to shoot one young male near the western Uusimaa coast. However the male wolf that was shot was an adult. It was shot in southern Karjaa on October 27, just before the license expired.
"There was an alpha pair, that is a male and a female, as well as six cubs. At the moment it appears that wolf that was killed was the pack's alpha male. Therefore it is very difficult to say how permanent this territory will be," says Visa Eronen, a game manager at the Wildlife Agency.
20 observations in 2 months
The largest number of wolf observations have been made around the village of Snappertuna, part of the sprawling municipality of Raseborg. The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) has received about 20 reports of wolves in the area within the past two months.
"Wolves cause concern in the area, although it is usually not very well grounded. Of course you can't give any guarantees as to how wild animals will behave. But we can say that the animals in this pack aren't very afraid of humans," Eronen tells Yle.
More than 40 wolf observations have been reported in all of western Uusimaa in recent times. The only other reports in Uusimaa are in the northern part between Hyvinkää and Mäntsälä, some 100 km north of the capital, where the tracks of a lone wolf have been spotted.
Story continues after graph
Further north, some residents of Ullava, near the west-coast town of Kokkola, have this autumn been calling for local hunting permits and special school transportation following reports of a pack of around six wolves in the area. The last time a wolf killed a human in Finland was in 1882.
Wolves move in from west coast
Antti Härkälä, a research technician at Luke, says he's not surprised that a pack would establish itself along the western Uusimaa coast.
"If you think about the fact that there have been wolves for more than a decade only about 100 kilometres away in south-western Finland, it's no surprise that some of them have ended up on the western Uusimaa coast. Based on DNA from the wolves' scat, the Snappertuna pack's male was from the Satakunta wolf territory [near Pori] and the female was from the border area between Raseborg and Salo."
Härkälä says that the wolves' origin explains their boldness, as they have lived relatively close to built-up areas their entire lives.
The Wildlife Agency and Luke plan to intensify their monitoring of wolves this winter. They are teaming up with the Finnish Hunters' Association to collect wolf droppings for DNA analysis, which can provide more detail about the size of wolf packs and their territories – which typically range between 700 and 1,000 square kilometres in Finland, according to the state forest agency Metsähallitus.
Standing-room-only public meeting
On Monday, the Wildlife Agency hosted an informational meeting on wolves in Karjaa. The event was packed with local residents, some presenting heated arguments for and against the proliferation of wolves in the region. The agency says it aims to ease the co-existence of humans and wolves in the area, and is setting up a committee including local residents to discuss the issue.
However Eronen points out that the Snappertuna pack may fade away following the death of its alpha male. On the other hand a new male wolf may enter the territory.
The Finnish Hunters' Association meanwhile is hosting what it bills as the first-ever national 'wolf forum' in Riihimäki on Thursday.
Last spring, Luke estimated Finland's wolf population at 150-180 individuals. The agency is to release its next estimate in May or June 2018.
The EU has in the past filed complaints with Finland over allowing the hunting of wolves, arguing against culling as they are listed as an endangered, protected species.