The term "underdog" has never seemed more applicable than it currently does regarding the situation of Norway’s wild wolf population, which finds itself outnumbered by more than 700 to one by hunters.
According to the Guardian, of the 30 gray wolves (Canis lupus) currently thought to be present in the Scandinavian nation’s forests, authorities have allowed 16 to be shot in the current 2015/16 hunting season that runs from October 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016. With more than 11,500 hunting licenses having been handed out, the odds are heavily stacked against the wild canines.
In spite of the dangerously low number of wolves currently living in Norway, the Norwegian Register for Hunters places very few restrictions on those who wish to apply for a license, requiring only that they pay their annual registration fee and pass a hunting proficiency test. As a result, high volumes of permits tend to be awarded each year, with around 10,000 having been obtained by hunters during the 2013/14 season.
While the quota for the number of wolves that can be killed each year is set by the government, the potential for this figure to be accidentally exceeded is obviously high, given the quantity of hunters. The system has therefore been heavily criticized by experts such as Petter Wabakken of the Hedmark University College Faculty of Forestry and Wildlife Management, who recently branded the government's policy "disturbing," telling the Guardian that the protection it provides for wolves is not enough to sustain a healthy population.
Though wolves once thrived in Norway, numbers have been dwindling ever since extensive hunting began in the mid-19th century in an attempt to protect livestock from predation. Facing extinction, wolves received government protection in 1973, although this safety is only guaranteed within a small area of land in the south-east region of the country, covering approximately five percent of its total area. Wolves who stray beyond the boundaries of this zone are at risk of being shot, as are those who have more than three litters a year, in accordance with efforts to keep predator populations under control.
Gray wolves typically live in packs of between four and nine, live for eight to 13 years, and reach an average body size of about one to 1.5 meters (3 to 5 feet) in length, not including the tail. Though around 30 are thought to be based in Norway, a further 50 are estimated to regularly migrate back and forth across the border with Sweden, where they receive greater legal protection from hunters. This population is said to be very isolated genetically, due to conflicts with wolves from other areas.
As carnivores, Norwegian wolves tend to hunt hoofed mammals such as elk and deer, although they also prey on livestock, killing around 1,500 sheep per year. It is for this reason that wolf hunting is allowed in Norway. However, opinion over this issue is very much split, with many pointing to the fact that considerably more sheep die from infections and traffic accidents than by wolf predation, and that given the dangerously low numbers of wild wolves in Norway, more should be done to protect them.