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Central Asia: Cohabitation Of Wolves, Humans Proves Difficult --> Not so easy to live with Given a choice, wolves generally steer clear of humans. But this winter, extreme temperatures in Central Asia have forced them into close contact with residents of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, threatening their livelihoods and -- in some cases -- their lives. Wolves have presented similar problem in other places, including nearby Russia and France. Those countries' efforts to control the damage from roaming wolves could prove useful for frustrated Uzbek and Tajik villagers.

Prague, 15 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Aside from man, the wolf's biggest enemy is the wolf. The roaming predator has inflicted considerable damage on animal stocks, earning itself passionate enemies in rural areas.

On the arid steppes of western Uzbekistan, some 20 villagers have been reported injured by wolves in five months. Two of them -- in the Muinak district -- died in early February as a result of their wounds.

In a remote eastern Badakhshan Province of Tajikistan where livestock are essential for survival, no one has died from a wolf attack. But Roshtqala District resident Jonibek Qozibekov told RFE/RL that villagers live in terror, with roaming wolves preying on farm animals.

"At night, the wolves own the village. First, they ate all the dogs. Now they have begun to eat sheep, cows [and other animals]. In the past two months, they have eaten 150 of them. Wolves dig through mud walls, break into sheds, and attack [animals]," Qozibekov said.
"At night, the wolves own the village. First, they ate all the dogs. Now they have begun to eat sheep, cows [and other animals]."

Residents from both regions have appealed to their central governments for help.

One option is that of mass hunting campaigns similar to the one that authorities launched earlier this month in Russia's Orenburg region in the southern steppes. March is when the wolf population there increases as "migrant" individuals from neighboring Kazakhstan roam.

Two hundred hunters there received a bounty of 1,000 rubles ($36) for each animal they killed. The campaign was aimed at culling the wolf population to keep it at 500, thus helping to contain the damage that wolves inflict on the cattle and hunting industries. The wolves are believed to take an unwanted toll that amounts to hundreds of thousands of rubles annually.

But Temur Idrisov, program director of the Tajik environmental group For the Earth, says he promotes a system of indemnities for the damage caused by wolves.

"Communities and wildlife can live together in harmony. The main issue here is [to draw] the attention of the government to this [problem]. If some community loses cows or sheep, there can be a system to covers this damage. But of course it should be partly subsidized by the government and by international organizations or environmental NGOs," Idrisov said.

Wolf Cohabitation

Gilbert Simon is vice president of Ferus, a nongovernmental group that defends the continued presence of wolves in France. He says compensation for damages in France can reach up to 150 percent of the sale price of an animal killed by a wolf.

But Simon says that -- even in France -- reconciling the interests of ranchers with the presence of wolves is hopeless. He says that cohabitation is another matter, however.

"We try to promote cohabitation by all means possible among shepherds, breeders, and the wolves. That doesn't mean reconciliation. I don't have any illusions. Breeders feel more comfortable when there are no wolves. [And] I don't see how they could change their mind," Simon said.

Wolves were effectively eradicated from France in the early 1940s. Fifty years later, they enjoyed a return when animals spread into the country's southeastern mountains from neighboring Italy.

While there has been no outcry among the French public over the returnees, ranchers are lobbying fiercely against the intruders. They claim wolves killed nearly 3,000 animals in the Alps in 2003, translating into financial losses and other hardships.

Environmental groups counter that French ranchers must adapt to the newcomer, using defense dogs and fences to protect their livestock.

(RFE/RL Tajik Service's Faiz Mirhasanov contributed to this report.)

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