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Wolves wipe out entire Tartu County sheep flock

Eurasian wolves (photo is illustrative).
Eurasian wolves (photo is illustrative). Source: Сhristels/Pixabay

Wolves killed an entire flock of sheep at a farm near Tartu at the weekend, following an already exceptionally high number of attacks this year, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Sunday.

Whereas a total of 946 sheep were killed by predatory wolves in 2022, according to the Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet), the figure has exceeded 1,000 this year so far, with several weeks of 2023 still to go.

Furthermore, while the wolf culling season begins November 1, this year the Environmental Board has not finalized quotas. In any case, AK reports, hunting the species can only really be effectively done once snow has covered the ground.

Tartu County sheep farmer Rein Mirka woke up Saturday morning to a call from a neighbor, who told him that apparently a wolf had paid a visit to his pasture and its flock of 14 sheep overnight.

"I thought that, well, some of them have been slaughtered, but that's not so bad; however, the entire breeding flock is one hundred percent, gone; they're all dead. The ram too," Mirka recounted.

Mirka and his farm have won dozens of awards for their breeding success, bringing the ram in question over from England, pre-Brexit.

Lambs which would next spring have been the offspring of the flock were to have been the fruition of 10 years' work, he added, and would have provided valuable information on their breeding techniques and the whole science too.

Each ewe could produce at least two lambs per season, for a six-year period.

In terms of raw numbers, rams cost around £2,000 sterling (at the time of writing a little under €2,311) if purchased in Britain, while the overall losses incurred by the wolf attack come to €15,000 to €20,000, Mirka said.

Expert opinion has it that the carnage – bite marks to the neck and mutilated sheep scattered across the field – bears all the hallmarks of a wolf attack.

Harder to ascertain is how many wolves were involved – the scale of the attack would be beyond one single predator, but beyond that it is hard to say the figures, while the lack of snow noted above means there are no tell-tale tracks.

"There has never been such a large-scale slaughter in our region, it's indeed a sad sight," Tõnu Peterson, CEO of the local hunting society, told AK.

Farmers in the area own around 300 heads of sheep across 60 hectares; up to now things had gone peaceably, but the sheer brazen nature of the pack's behavior – the field in question is close to human habitation, between houses and close to a main road – means that all will be much more on guard.

The Environmental Board is as noted still preparing its decision on this year's wolf culling quotas; last year's quota was over 120, more than double the level for 2021 (50), reflecting growing numbers and a concomitant rise in the number of sheep slaughtered, though disagreements on numbers have led to the matter being taken to the European Court of Justice.

The AK segment is in the video player below (viewer discretion is advised).

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' reporter Ode Maria Punamäe.

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