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Finland opens controversial wolf cull

Finland has opened its second sanctioned wolf hunt in what authorities say is an attempt to manage numbers and curb poaching. Environmentalists have protested, arguing the cull may destroy the genetic diversity of packs.

Saturday kicks off a controversial wolf cull that gives hunters the right to kill around one fifth of Finland's 250-strong wolf population, a move that has outraged environmentalists.

Authorities have authorized the taking of 46 wolves out of an estimated 250 grey wolves, an endangered species. The government says it hopes the trial hunt will curb poaching, which some landowners have resorted to in defense of pets and livestock.

"The cull reduces the population but the wolf is a prolific species... Wolves have spread out to new and even somewhat populous areas," Sauli Harkonen, a director tasked with hunting administration at the Finnish Wildlife Agency, told the AFP news agency.

Poachers throughout the Nordic country's vast forests reduced the total grey wolf population to between 120 and 135 animals in 2013. In one notable case, residents in the rural western region of Perho began poaching wolves – with at least three animals killed. Some 12 men were prosecuted and convicted.

The population has since rebounded to around 250, similar to 2007 levels.

Last year, Finland launched the first of a two-year trial to address this deep rift between rural residents and animal rights advocates. Hunters were given permission to shoot 24 wolves last year, though only 17 were killed.

Finnland Wolfsjagd

Finnish hunters have been authorized to kill nearly 20 percent of the country's wolf population in a controversial trial hunt that opened January 23, 2016.

Controversial wolf hunt criticized as unscientific

But animal rights group and environmentalists have opposed the cull saying it's unnecessary and unscientific.

"All protectionists have been shocked by the high quotas,” said Mari Nyyssola-Kiisla, head of the wolf action group of the Finnish Nature League. “The population should be at least twice as big for it to be genetically healthy.”

Hunting wolves was banned between 2007 and 2015 after the European Union accused Finns of breaching EU protection rules on the endangered species, resulting in widespread poaching in Finland.

In many parts of rural Finland, a traditional aversion to the wolves dates back to at least the 19th century when tales of child-eating wolves were common lore and bounties were paid for killing wolves.

Today, many rural residents say they are alarmed by the growing wolf population with some even claiming children are in danger despite the lack of any documented attacks on humans in modern times.

There are about 300,000 licensed hunters in Finland – one of the highest per capita rates in Europe.

jar/bw (AP, AFP)