Евроазиски волк. Фото: Mas3cf/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The wolf in North Macedonia is still considered a pest. He is one of the three big predators inhabiting the country’s mountains, together with the bear and the Balkan Lynx, but is least protected. This animal is still a legal target, for whose killing the hunters get money rewards, although the domestic environmental associations are alerting that the wolf population is declining. It is estimated that there are currently over 400 wolves in our forests, which apart from being legal hunting prey, face a number of other threats, including hybridization with dogs.

Under the current hunting law, the wolf, along with the fox, the marten, the weasel and many other animals and birds, is an animal without any protection. Unlike the protected wild animal species, these animals are not subject to a temporary or permanent ban on hunting. The law also stipulates money rewards for killed harmful wild animals, disbursed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Specifically, for the wolf the reward is €50.

“The law must be changed and the hunting of the wolf must be limited through hunting bans, because its population in the country is constantly declining”, says Dime Melovski from the Macedonian Ecological Society.

He points out that the permanent protection is not a good solution, which has already been proven in practice, but hunting restrictions for certain periods must exist. It is also necessary to determine quotas that will limit the extent to which the hunting is allowed and which will depend on the exact number of wolves in the hunting grounds. Melovski says that more sophisticated counting methods, such as the genetic counting, must be applied, as it is very likely that many overlapping counts between the hunting grounds have occurred, since the wolf lives and feeds on large territories.

“We are perhaps among the last countries in Europe where the wolf is a pest and the its killing is not limited, and there is a reward, moreover, which serves as an additional motivation for killing wolves, both for the hunters and for the cattle breeders”, Melovski says.

One of the biggest problems in the efforts to protect the wolf, according to Melovski, is the open promotion of hunting tourism and the attraction of foreign hunters to the country, which must stop immediately. He says that the lack of any restrictions encourages the organization of hunting campaigns because the foreign hunters in this country exclusively have the opportunity to shoot a wolf.

Wolves easily adapt and inhabit many types of habitats such as forests, shrubberies, grasslands, pastures, land waters and steppes, and occasionally near the human settlements. Most of the data on the presence of the wolf in N. Macedonia confirms that this animal prefers forests, and sometimes visits the lowland agricultural areas near the villages. It is estimated that in an area of around 100 square kilometers 2.2 wolves live and hunt.

According to Vojo Gogovski, State advisor for forestry and hunting in the Ministry of Agriculture, the wolf population in the country is around 400 individuals and is stable. He points out that the population of this wild animal in the country is one of the largest in Europe and that it is maintained for a longer period of time. Counting is carried out regularly, every ten years or, if necessary, more frequently, within each hunting ground in the country.

“For big game and small game there is a methodology for collecting data on the quantity that is accepted everywhere in Europe and in our country. A count or estimate of the number can be made, and based on it, the annual growth dynamics are defined. If there is a need, in five years or shorter, the planning documents can be revised“, Gogovski says.

In the new hunting act which is under preparatiot it is likely that the status of this wild animal will not change, nor will the reward for its shooting be abolished. At one occassion in the past, the wolf was put under protection, but Gogovski says that at the time the situation became alarming. Domestic livestock suffered, and because there was not an obligation to ear tag the livestock, instead of the real numbers, much more animals were reported as slaughtered by the wolves and compensations for them sought from the state.

“There is no one who cares more than us for the protection of the wolf. The real hunters take good care of animals. The population is stable, and that’s because we’re taking care of the game that is its food. But the number must be maintained at a certain level. So far, there has not been a case of the monetary reward being the motive for killing; instead, most often the motive has been the protection of the domestic livestock. “I claim that there is no such thing as a classic wolf hunt,“ he says.

The environmental organization “Eko svest” (Eco consciousness) recently, on the World Wolf Day, appealed for taking all precautionary measures to ensure the wolves stay in our forests, where they belong. The environmentalists believe that although the modern lifestyle often brings us into conflict with wolves, they are necessary and invaluable in maintaining the balance of ecosystems. Their impact as predators changes the behavior of other animals, protects forests from parasites and even protects rivers from erosion and damage.

“The wolf in this country is placed in the near threatened category. The reason for this is that it is considered harmful wild animal, so commercial hunting is organized throughout the year, and, also new infrastructure projects are fragmenting its habitats. According to the official estimates, over 400 individuals live in our country, but its population is not regularly monitored,“ Eko-svest says.

Worldwide, the wolf is protected by three international conventions, The Washington Convention (CITES – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora); then the Annexes II, IV, and V of the Directive on the Habitats in EU, and is listed as strictly protected species in Annex II of the Bern Convention.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the wolf as “least worrying” in Europe, because although it is endangered or vulnerable at the national level in several countries, it is rising at the European level both in number and in range. However, the wolves are still legally hunted in a number of European countries that are not members of the European Union, including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, N. Macedonia and Albania, and wolf hunts are also tourist attraction. Limited legal hunting is also carried out in Finland, Norway, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia.