Swedes under fire as cull on wolves opens

TEN thousand Swedish hunters yesterday began a historic effort to bag just 27 wolves in the country's first cull for 45 years.

The sportsmen braved freezing temperatures to take advantage of the rare opportunity to shoot an animal that has been protected for decades.

They have just a month to hunt the wild animals after the Swedish parliament ruled that the overall number of wolves in the country should not exceed 210.

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There is currently thought to be between 180 and 220 of the animals living in Sweden's remote forests and hills. The country's Environmental Protection Agency has set a maximum kill of 27.

Sweden stopped issuing hunting licences in the 1965-66 season when the predator almost became extinct. Since then, the wolf population has recovered

Hunters trying to bag the creatures will have to make hourly checks on the quota to ensure they don't kill too many.

Environmentalists oppose the cull, saying wolf levels have still to reach a healthy level, which help control potential pests such as deer in woodland areas. The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation has said it will make a formal complaint to the European Commission.

Sweden has been working with neighbouring Norway to protect wolves and the two countries have even reintroduced the species to the forests along their frontier.

Sweden protested when Norway had a limited cull of the animals, which some farmers dread, in 2001.

Gunnar Gloersson, of the Swedish Hunters Association, said: "We have a lot of problems with wolves – in reindeer areas, with livestock, and for hunters they kill our valuable dogs.

"Since they came back we have to live with them, but we have to keep their numbers down."

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Gloersson, however, admitted it may be hard to kill as many as 27 wolves.