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Baltic large carnivore project

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Baltic large carnivore project
Large carnivores in northern landscapes: an interdisciplinary approach to their regional conservation

  1. Build scientific co-operation between Norway, the Baltic States, and Poland.

  2. Transfer some of the considerable research experience from Norway (and Poland) to the Baltic States and build the capacity of local scientists.

  3. Obtain comparative ecological and sociological data that can be used to improve the conservation management of large carnivores in the region, and make large carnivores a model species for interdisciplinary research.

  4. Transfer experience from successful carnivore-human coexistence from the Baltic region to Norway.

Structure and partners:

The project involves scientists from NINA working together with 9 research organisations in the region (4 in Estonia, 2 in Latvia, 1 in Lithuania and 2 in Poland). In addition, logistical support is being provided by national parks in Latvia and Estonia;


Department of Zoology and Hydrobiology, University of Tartu, Tartu (Harri Valdmann).

Forest Research Institute & Faculty of Forestry, University of Agricultural Science, Tartu (Tiit Randveer).

Forestry Department, Ministry of the Environment, Tallin (Peep Manil).

Estonian Fund for Nature, Tartu (Robert Oetjen).

Sooma National Park


Forest Research Institute – “Silava”, Riga (Zanete Andersone)

State Forest Service, Riga (Janis Ozolins)

Kemeri National Park


Institute of Ecology, Vilnius (Linas Balciauskas)


Mammal Research Institute, Bialowieza (Krzysztof Schmidt)

Institute of Nature Conservation, Krakow (Henryk Okarma)

The Research Council of Norway (Norges forskningsråd) and NINA are funding the project.

Further Information:

John Linnell at NINA is project leader (73 801 400 / 900 125 33).

Background – Conserving carnivores in Europe

The last 30 years have seen a world-wide U-turn in policy towards large carnivore species. Management objectives have switched from extermination to conservation. As a result, large carnivore populations (wolf, lynx, brown bear) have begun to recover in many areas of Europe through natural recovery and active reintroduction. Despite a general positive trend many populations are small, and most are isolated from other populations. Because of the large area requirements of individual large carnivores their conservation must occur in human-dominated multi-use landscapes that characterise the European continent rather than in protected or wilderness areas. When large carnivores return to these multi-use landscapes many of the conflicts that originally motivated carnivore extermination recur. Foremost among these is depredation on domestic livestock, but conflicts with hunters for game, and fear for personal safety are also important. Furthermore, these conflicts blend with social tensions stemming from processes of modernisation and social change in rural areas, where the carnivore issues may turn into powerful symbols. Therefore, conserving large carnivores in present day European landscapes is a highly technical exercise that requires constant adaptive management and a high level of scientific knowledge.

State of knowledge – Baltic carnivores

On a European scale, the populations of large carnivores found in the Baltic States and Poland are of great importance, both because of their size and potential to connect European populations with those in Russia and Belarus. Unfortunately, the knowledge platform for their conservation in the Baltic States is generally poor. On very limited funds only the most basic of ecological studies have been possible – although the 3 countries have been able to make the most of these limited funds and construct a platform of basic knowledge on diet, morphometrics, genetics and parasites. The situation in Poland is better where the wolf and lynx populations of the Bialowieza Primeval Forest have been intensively studied and where a series of new research projects on wolf, lynx and bears are underway in the Carpathian Mountians. However, even in Poland, funding is limited and there is a need to extend the areas of research from small study areas to the regional level.
A critical time of change

This is a critical time when knowledge is required. While the populations of large carnivores are presently healthy in the Baltic States, it is unclear what their future will be in the face of the dramatic changes in socio-economics and land-use that can be expected with EU-accession and the general changes that have resulted since the fall of the Soviet Union. Moreover, the lynx populations in Poland and Lithuania are low and have probably decreased during recent decades. EU accession is going to influence agriculture (potential conflict area), forestry (habitat), infrastructure (can create barriers and increase direct mortality) and protection status of various species listed on the various annexes of the Habitat Directive. Failure to take the needs of large carnivores into account during this process could have dramatic effects in the future. Aid money from outside the region (mainly Denmark, Germany and Finland) has made a significant contribution to secure important sites of biological diversity into a system of nature reserves and national parks that will contribute to the EU’s Natura 2000 network. However, large carnivores function on a totally different spatial scale, such that few existing protected areas will even embrace the area requirements of single individuals, let alone populations, making their conservation particularly challenging. Increasing the knowledge base about these species, and building the capacity of local scientific staff is vital to their long-term survival.

The project

The project consists of 6 elements. Elements 1-5 concern the four countries, whereas element 6 will only be conducted in Latvia and Estonia

(1) Distribution and status

The most basic information that is needed is a good overview of the distribution of wolves, bears and lynx in the region. To obtain this we are trying to coordinate the monitoring activities within the four countries so as to produce some overall maps of species distribution. This work is being done by the various hunter’s associations and the forestry administration agencies.

(2) Damage and conflict

We are gathering data on the level of carnivore depredation on domestic animals – mainly sheep, cattle and hunting dogs. With the exception of Poland, there is no compensation paid by the state, so the existing data is uncertain. Therefore, we are conducting interview surveys of farmers and hunters and various study areas throughout the region.

(3) Information

Information is a vital aspect of any research project. We have therefore engaged the Estonian Fund for Nature to help distribute the results from the project in local languages as they appear.

(4) Human dimension

In order to compare public attitudes towards large carnivores in the region with those in Norway, we have translated a questionnaire that was distributed throughout Norway into the local languages of all four countries. This will allow us to directly compare peoples knowledge and attitudes throughout a region where the species have had a constant presence, to those in Norway where the species are returning after an absence.

(5) GIS – Geographic Information Systems

When working over very large areas, GIS systems are very useful to gather data together and present it in an accessible manner. Our GIS studies will analyse the distribution data together with satellite maps of habitat, to develop coordinated conservation plans for the entire region.

(6) Telemetry

Much of the knowledge that we have gained about large carnivores in Norway has come from radio-collared animals. Todate, no large carnivore has ever been radio-collared in the Baltic states, although Poland has much experience. The project aims to try and capture some wolves and lynx in Latvia and lynx and bears in Estonia. As well as teaching people how to trap, immobilise and radio-track carnivores they basic data on home range size and movements will help us interpret the data on distribution and population size.

Funding and knowledge transfer

In response to carnivore-human conflicts in Norway, large amounts of funding have been spent on large carnivore research during the last decade (over 23 million NOK from 1996-2004 by the Norwegian Research Council (NFR) alone), much of which has been conducted through the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA). This research has provided a solid background for political discussion of large carnivore management, much of has culminated in a white paper submitted to the Norwegian parliament in 2003 (“Rovvilt in norsk nature”). Based on the last 10 years of ecological and sociological research in Norway, NINA has a unique inter-disciplinary competence in large carnivore issues that can potentially be transferred to the Baltic States and Poland.

Equally important, is the fact that large carnivores are not very controversial in the Baltic region. People seem to coexist with them without any major social conflicts – despite the fact that this a region where wolves get rabies and occasionally attack people. Through this cooperation we hope to learn why and how this coexistence is achieved. In other words, while we can teach the Baltics a lot about carnivore science, we believe they can teach us a lot about how to live with carnivores.
For the period 2003-2005 NFR has awarded NINA and its partners a total grant of 3 million NOK from their research program for EU candidate countries.

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