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Karelia is a region that straddles the border of Southeast Finland and Northwest Russia. The Russian side of the border has only a small human population whilst the Finnish side is relatively densely populated. Historically, wolves have always been disliked and hunted hard in Finland and most of the Finnish public living in the border regions don't take kindly to seeing wolves in their front gardens.
The Finnish community of Rautjärvi lies just three kilometres from the Russian border and attitudes toward the "predators" are not very warm. Wolves have been involved in many attacks on livestock, killing both farm animals and domestic pets.
It comes as no surprise therefore, to learn that around a quarter of Finland's wolves are culled each year with most being taken by legal hunters and a few falling victim to illegal poaching. Fortunately (from the conservationist's point of view), the Finnish wolf population is replenished continually by an influx of Russian wolves from across the border.
Electrified fencing keeps wolves and sheep apart
As part of a broader, longer term campaign to change attitudes and find ways of enabling the human and wolf populations to co-exist in harmony, environmental activists in Rautjärvi are helping to set up a system of electrified fences to prevent wolves from attacking flocks of sheep.
The activists are volunteer members of a wolf action group called 'Susiryhmä'. Susiryhmä is part of Luonto-Liitto (The Finnish League for Nature Conservation). Ten volunteers of the League, under the direction of project secretary Mr Ilari Uotila, have helped to set up the electrified fences in an effort to keep the predators and prey separate. They hope that by reducing the incidence of attacks upon sheep, the hostility felt toward wolves and other large predators in rural areas can be considerably reduced.
The fence projects are aimed at winning the support of farmers and in protecting both farmers and wolves they represent an ingenious win/win solution to the wolf predation problem. If successful they could neutralise one of the most powerful arguments of the anti-wolf lobby against increasing the wolf population whilst for the farmers, the system will provide a much more reliable safeguard for their stock than the haphazard shooting of wolves
Uotila says that the fences, though only little over a metre high, are high enough. The electric current running through the fence is slightly more powerful than that which is used in electric fences that keep cows in their pastures.
"A wolf can jump over an obstacle up to two metres high, but it is a cautious animal, and first investigates everything that is new and strange. Now it will get an electric shock and run away," Uotila explains.
"Prevention will prove cheaper than compensating for the damage after the fact. The fence also has more long-term benefits. Besides, damage caused by predators always incites fear felt toward large predators."
The Rautjärvi fence is the fifth electrified wolf fence in Finland, two of which were erected in 2001.
In neighbouring Sweden there has been a much more systematic effort to erect such fences. There are now well over 100 electrified wolf fences in operation and this has contributed to a significant increase in Sweden's wolf population.
Uotila says "In Sweden the fences are built as part of employment schemes. The state should take some responsibility here in Finland as well, as we will soon come up against the limits of volunteer work".
Original Article: Anglian Wolf Society. January 2011