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With skis and helicopters, researchers dart and collar 14 wolves

Location data from the GPS trackers will be available to the public to help hunters avoid the risk of having their dogs attacked by wolves – though it could also help poachers find wolves.

Suden urospentu pannoitettavana.
This anaesthetised juvenile male is being equipped with a GPS collar. Image: Ilpo Kojola / RKTL

The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) has equipped 14 grey wolves with GPS collars this spring in eastern Finland. The agency said this week that it had carried out the operations in February and March. Two of the wolves had been collared in the past, and additionally two other collared wolves had their non-working devices replaced.

Five wolves were collared in the municipality of Kuhmo in Kainuu, six in Juuka and Lieksa in North Karelia, and three in Lapinlahti and Vieremäki, North Savo.

Eight of those collared were adults and six were juveniles. Nine were male and six female.

Helicopters and snowmobiles

Interviewed on Yle Radio 1's Ykkösaamu on Friday morning, ‎Luke large carnivore researcher Katja Holmala explained that the collaring process required precise, rapid timing.

First Luke staff on skis located and approached wolves. When they were in an area suitable for the collaring procedure, they called for a helicopter, which was kept on standby. Each wolf was darted with an anaesthetic from the copter. Researchers then had from about half an hour to just under an hour to carry out the operation before the wolf would reawaken from the anaesthetic.  In some cases, the slumbering canines had to be moved by sledge to a more suitable location to complete the process.  In one case, a wolf was tracked down by snowmobile.

The location data now being fed back into Luke's computers is a highly effective way to determine the animals' territorial boundaries and routes – as well as to estimate the size of the entire wolf population. It also gives indications as to the extent of poaching and the number of livestock and game killed by wolves. These in turn are part of hotly-debated decisions on whether or how much to cull the population.

Collared wolves in poachers' crosshairs

During the 2015-16 hunting season, 55 of the country's estimated 290 wolves were shot. Twenty-three others were recorded as being killed otherwise, mostly by police, poachers and road accidents. In the past, the EU has criticised Finland for allowing the hunting of wolves, which is a protected species under EU law.

From August until next February, data from the collars showing the wolves' movements will be accessible to the public on Luke's website. The aim of releasing the data is to help hunters avoid the risk of having their dogs attacked by wolves – but could also help poachers find wolves.

A number of collared wolves have been shot illegally in recent years. For instance, police suspect that a collared wolf was shot by a poacher last November in the Salmenkylä area of Nurmes in North Karelia. Other cases include one in 2015 in Utajärvi, near Oulu, and in 2012 in Pöytyä, 40 km from Turku in south-west Finland.

Fatal attack on dogs near Hämeenlinna

Meanwhile, a wolf is believed to have attacked two pet dachshunds on Sunday evening in Lammi, near Hämeenlinna in south-central Finland. They were seen being attacked by a large canine in the owner's garden. One dog was found dead and the other was so badly injured it had to be euthanized.

Marko Muuttola of the Finnish Wildlife Agency, who visited the scene, told Yle he is "90 percent certain" the predator was a wolf.

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