Articles - Vivat lupus
Who's afraid of the
The grey wolf (Canis lupus) is the most widely distributed large mammal on the planet. This predator used to populate almost the entire Northern Hemisphere. Due to the negative human influence on nature, the historical image of the wolf went through drastic changes in a short period of time. Wolves, which were once common and widely spread in the entire continental zone of the Northern Hemisphere, completely vanished or have been drastically reduced in numbers across wide areas of the USA and Europe. This occurrence is exactly proportional with the development of human population and the degradation of wolves’ natural habitats. In Europe wolves remain only in highland areas where there is extensive cattle breeding (the Iberian peninsula, the Apennines in Italy and the Balkan Peninsula) or in the ex-Soviet countries of Eastern Europe and Asia. In west and central Europe wolves became extinct during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The grey wolf belongs to the family of dogs (Canidae). It is a well-proportioned, well-built carnivore of medium size. It has a large head and strong jaws, muscular neck, firm body, strong chest and long legs. With such “equipment” the wolf is indeed a specialist for hunting prey in swift and persistent pursuit as a member of a pack. Co-operation during the hunt allowed the development of a high level of the psychological characteristics of the wolf, and the characteristic hierarchical structure within the pack.
Vivat Lupus (lat.) – Long live the wolf
The Organisation Vivat Lupus was founded in Novi Sad on December 2005. It was started by students who care for the preservation of natural habitat, biological diversity, sustainable development and the welfare of men and wild animals in a mutual environment. The main goals of Vivat Lupus are:
Conservation and study of wild carnivores (bear, wolf, fox, jackal, lynx, wild cat, otter etc.) in Serbia
Education about the importance and role of these species in nature
Ecological activism with the goal of attracting public attention to the problems of the survival of carnivores in Serbia
Re-introduction of extinct species of carnivores in Serbia
The Organization Vivat Lupus has
gained an enormous amount of support from true animal lovers right
across Serbia. Also, important contacts have been established with the
relevant scientists both in Serbia and abroad.
Each year massive wolf hunts are organized in Serbia. As their organizers proudly say, these hunts aim to help cattle farmers to whom wolves cause damage. The truth is somewhat different. In these hunts, fewer wolves are killed than in individual hunts. But, massive hunts are, generally speaking, very bad. Wolves are hunted unselectively and randomly; often the strongest members of the pack are killed which destroys the structure of their complex hierarchy. The media make sensational reports of these hunts and make the image of the wolf in the eyes of the population even worse. Large numbers of hunters, sometimes over 2,000, surround an entire mountain and trap the animals, giving them no chance of escape. Killed wolves are often placed on the hoods of cars where they are photographed together with the “proud hunters”. Frequently hunters drive their cars, displaying dead wolves on the hood, across the town as a display of power. Such hunting methods show no gallantry or sport, especially not today in an era of high technology. Mass hunts of wolves by men with rifles and other high tech equipment are anything but sporting and justifiable.
Foto: Neven Bjelić
The Organization Vivat Lupus arranged a protest gathering on Mount Zlatibor, on 4th March 2006. On that day, more than a thousand hunters hunted wolves on this mountain. The aim of the gathering was, above all, to show that in Serbia there are people who think that hunts are not a good solution and that there are other, more humanitarian, solutions to resolve the conflict between cattle farmers and wolves. Participants of the protest arrived on Mount Zlatibor in two buses, with 105 activists and also around 30 young people from the local Uzice area who joined in the protest. Most of the activists were students from Novi Sad and Belgrade, but there were also elementary and high school pupils from Belgrade and Cacak. Great support came from NGO Planet – Art from Uzice. The protest had been designed as a peaceful, ecological gathering of citizens. The participants did a small performance, disguised as Little Red Riding Hood, a sheep and a wolf. The group of travelling entertainers, known as “Putujuci cututuk”, put on a show with music, juggling and rides on the monocycle, while the youngest children were amused by a clown who made figures of animals out of balloons. The action was excellently covered by the media and very soon positive criticism from the community followed. Since it was the first time that such a protest was held in Serbia, it is no wonder that everyone on Mount Zlatibor was surprised by what they saw, and the hunters were much amazed by the determination and courage of these young people, who stood up and told them publicly that they are wrong.
Wolves have been described as ”extreme pests, bloodsuckers, unscrupulous killers of cattle and wildlife” to the public of Serbia for decades. The reality is that wolves do cause damage to cattle farmers. But that is caused by various other factors. The populations of Red Deer, Roe Deer and Wild Boar in Serbia, which are the primary prey of wolves, are in catastrophic condition due to excessive hunting and poaching. Most cattle farmers do not have adequate fences to protect their cattle from wolf attacks, in the countryside there are no proper, trained sheep dogs, villages are dying out, the population is rapidly growing old, and wolf habitats are reduced by urbanisation, forestry, hunting and tourism. So the wolf is not, neither he can be, mean a bloodsucker or a murderer; he is just an animal, just like any other, forced to survive.
The wolf population in Serbia is roughly estimated at 700-800 animals by the leading biologist (Paunović et Milenković, 2000). Hunters, in their most recent statements, claim that the population is at least double that, ignoring the facts put forward by valid scientific research. It is clear that the population of wolves is exaggerated for various purposes. Each year in Serbia about 100 wolves are killed. Most of these animals are killed in individual actions, when they are hunted at feeding stations (places where wolves are artificially fed with slaughterhouse waste) and mostly during the winter. By this method a very negative form of selection is carried out because those wolves that do not cause any damage to cattle farmers are shot!
On the territory of Serbia wolves are protected only in the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, by the Hunting Law (which gives a permanent closed season) and by the Legal Act of Natural Rarities (Natural Rarity). South of the rivers Sava and Danube, wolves are hunted throughout the year.
The roles of wolves in nature:
Select natural prey
Remove the carcasses of dead animals
Conflict between humans and wolves dates
from the times when human society changed from gathering food to keeping
livestock. It is believed that the first domesticated animal was a wolf.
Some 100.000 years ago the wolf developed into the domestic dog, an
animal that has had such a great influence on mankind. Dogs provided
humans with an easier way of hunting wild animals, the ability to settle
in one place and to control other domesticated animals. In this way
human society had more leisure time, which probably led to development
of the arts. From ancient times wolves followed humans and scavenged
their food waste. Sometimes wolves even co-operated in hunts with
humans. But, when humans started keeping livestock, the wolf became
their worst rival. Since then these two species have outwitted each
other, but coexisted.
Different cultures have had different impressions of the wolf. In some societies wolves were considered to be gods and were worshiped, in others they were hated and detested. Societies in the Balkans respected the wolf. Old Slavs featured their major god Dazbog as a Lame Wolf. Wolves had a strong symbolical meaning amongst the Slavs which was preserved throughout history and then carried on into the Christian era. The wolf has always played an important role in Serbian folklore, customs and tradition. A great number of male and female personal names are derived from the word Vuk (Serbian for Wolf) – Vuk, Vukašin, Vujadin, Vuka and Vukosava. It used to be believed that wolves scare away evil spirits and ghosts and protect children from illness and because of this parents gave their children names which derived from the word «wolf». Also many settlements and other places in Serbia are named after wolf (Vučje, Vučkovica, Vučica).
In parallel with intensive logging, wars and the devastation of rural communities, hunting societies started planning game rearing in communist Serbia. They tried to eradicate the wolf population in various ways, but the worst one was by poisoning wolves with strychnine. Wolves learned how to survive poisoning, but many Jackals, Brown Bears, Lynxes, Griffon Vultures, Egyptian Vultures, Lammergeyers, Black Vultures, Golden Eagles and Imperial Eagles died. Due to poisoning and loss of habitat Black Vultures, Lammergeiers and Egyptian Vultures are now extinct in Serbia, while the future of other big raptors is not secure.
Text: Milan Ružić
Photo: Milana Novaković & Stefan Nikolić