The wolf, or Canis lupus, is one of the two species of large predators living in Lithuania on a permanent basis. Mostly they are found in the Lithuanian border areas with large masses of forestland and wetland. These are the Kamanai Nature Reserve, the Žagarė Forest, the Biržai Wood, the Šimoniai Wood, the Labanoras Wood, the Adutiškis Wood, the Taurai Wood, the Dainava Wood, the Čepkeliai Marsh, and the Karšuva Wood. In other forests, wolves are fairly rare.

Photo: Valdas Augustinas
The records of foresters and non-governmental organizations show that in March of 2011 there were 140 180 wolves in Lithuania, and the official statistics from the Ministry of Environment put the number at 300 wolves. However, the official data in countries where wolves are hunted is distorted and artificially increased because the number of wolves allowed to be hunted depends on the results of such surveys.

Before the introduction of the wolf hunting quota in 2006, Lithuanian hunters were permitted to kill 50 80 wolves every year. Yet every year there is pressure to increase this quota but Lithuanian society and non-governmental institutions are against this. In 2010, 10,000 Lithuanian citizens signed a petition against the increase of the hunting quota and for a stricter protection of wolves. The petition received support from 14 scholars as well.

The wolf makes an important hunting trophy, but these animals are also hunted because they constitute a threat to domestic livestock. However, the hunt does not solve the farmers’ livestock safety problem because most wolves are not shot in the areas of high-yield agriculture but usually in massive forestlands and protected areas, such as national and regional parks. In more than half of the protected areas, wolves do not live at all or appear individually, not as packs. Wolves perform their function in a forest ecosystem only if they live in packs. Individual wolves do most damage to the farmers because they are unable to hunt down large ungulates and thus have a hard time feeding their pups.

An average wolf pack is made up of parents, an alpha pair, and their two-year old offspring. Although every year an alpha pair breeds a litter of 8 pups, only 2 pups survive the winter due to disease and food shortage. Thus, an average wolf pack consists of 6 to 7 individuals. Such packs appear only in those countries where wolves are not hunted (Poland, for instance), whereas in Lithuania a pack usually consists of 3 to 5 wolves. Due to intense legal and illegal hunting, wolves usually do not live as packs but as pairs, which should be a reason for concern for hunters themselves because a wolf pack and a wolf pair kills the same amount of ungulates. As the hunting area of a wolf pair is much smaller than that of a pack, a single forest can have more wolf pairs than packs, which leads to a higher number of ungulates killed.

In wilderness the average lifespan of a wolf is five years only, because they perform the role of population regulators. As they eat sick animals, they contract the diseases of their prey. Around 70 percent of wolves have trichinellosis. Yet wolves are not carriers of rabies; in fact, they regulate the populations of foxes and raccoons, thus curbing the spread of rabies.

In Lithuania, the killed wolves are usually 3 to 4 years of age. Because wolves reach their reproductive maturity at the age of 3, many of them end up mating only once or twice in their lifetime. It is estimated that every year about 20 wolves are shot in Lithuania by poachers alone. The fine for an illegally shot wolf amounts to 300 Litas, whereas a wolf pelt and a wolf skull sell at about 5,000 Litas. Over the last ten years only one hunter has been fined because illegal wolf hunt cases are carefully covered up.

It would be easier to solve illegal hunting cases if trophy passports were introduced and environmental protection inspectors were forbidden from joining hunting clubs. At present it is difficult to control who is abiding by the principles of the Bern and the CITES conventions that prohibit sale in wolf trophies and their use for commercial purposes. The current procedure for hunting does not ensure a safe state of the wolf populations, which above all should be understood in terms of ensuring a safe state of wolf packs. This procedure goes against the Habitats Directive, on the basis of which Lithuania was granted an exception to hunt wolves.
Yet the future of wolves depends more on the mobilization of public opinion rather than on the adherence to international legal documents. The countries that have launched new measures for the protection f their livestock have compensatory mechanisms, and even their farmers are more favorably disposed toward wolves than our farmers in Lithuania. This is precisely because environmental protection agencies that work to protect wolves pay most attention to providing help to farmers. At the initiative of non-governmental organizations, farms that were first damaged by wolves received Podhal shepherd dogs who are excellent protectors of livestock. Also, they provide regular consultancy services to farmers. In such a way, a peaceful coexistence between village people and these predators becomes possible. This rests not only on our knowledge and financial capacity but also on our wish to preserve Lithuanian wildlife in as natural a state as possible.

A wolf den has been discovered in the Biržai Wood.