A huge operation to cull 3,000 wolves in Russia's largest region began today - 15 January - amid claims banned poisons could be used.
The three top hunters will receive a one million rouble - or $33,000 - bonus. Picture: Gazeta Yakutia
An annual operation in the Sakha Republic - also known as Yakutia - has been massively expanded this year and will use helicopters to spot and shoot the burgeoning wolf populations which threatens deer herds and horses. Last year hunters killed 730 grey wolves but with a state of emergency now in force, the aim in 2013 is to wipe out all but 500 wolves in a territory almost as large as India.
'Local authorities first announced a three months long hunting season, but quickly prolonged it to 'indefinite', saying that the season will be over only when the number of wolves would come down to 500,' reported Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
The wolves are causing serious losses to deer herdsmen with 16,111 deer lost last year from herds numbering 200,000. Some 314 horses were also lost to wolves. Deer breeders lose around 10,000 roubles, or $330, per animal.
Yegor Borisov, head of the region, warned people 'are worried like never before' over the wolf threat, stressing: 'We must have a clear plan of how to fight the wolves'.
Reports suggest that the republic's government may appeal to the federal authorities to permit the use of unspecified banned 'special means to kill the animals, including poisons.'
Hunters are being paid rewards to kill the wolves, with bounties of $660 per adult wolf pelt and $50 for the skin of a cub. Some districts like Verkhoyansk are raising the incentives an extra $300 per pelt.
The three top hunters will receive a one million rouble - or $33,000 - bonus. Others are promising a snowmobile to the hunter who kills most wolves.
So far there has been no outcry from animal protectionists. 'There are too many wolves in Russia,' said Vladimir Krever of the World Wildlife Fund.
The hunting teams began getting in place across the region earlier this week in time for the official start of the hunting season on 15 January.
The season normally lasts three months but this year has been made 'indefinite' until at least 3,000 wolves are slaughtered.
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