Better days are approaching for declining Greek wolf packs

THESSALONIKI – The Information Center on Wolves, which opened Sunday, marks the beginning of the Arcturos environmental group’s new campaign to brief the public on wolves and their relationship with humans. The aim is to improve the negative image many people have of this species. For some time a group from Arcturos, a non-profit organization for the conservation of wildlife, has been working with wolves in Agrapidies, in Florina, northern Greece, where a wolf sanctuary, similar to the well-established and successful bear sanctuary in nearby Nymphaio, has been established within a LIFE program titled «Wolf.» Agrapidies, Aetos and Nymphaio now form a three-pronged effort by Arcturos to protect and conserve wildlife and the natural environment. The seven-hectare wolf sanctuary, set up with financial support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, is now home to 17 wolves that were all previously in captivity, either in the hands of individuals or livestock breeders in various parts of the country. Both the Berne Treaty and European Union directives prohibit both keeping wolves in captivity and killing them, as they are one of Europe’s disappearing species. Every year, many of Greece’s estimated 500-700 wolves are killed. They range throughout central and northern Greece; the last seen in the Peloponnese was in 1940. Biologist Lazaros Georgiadis said Arcturos’s newest venture was focused on man’s relationship with wolves, protecting humans from wolves and the species’ role in the ecosystem. It supplements Arcturos’s existing program for protecting these animals. The Agrapidies center will also provide information on the biology of the species, myths about them and the dangers threatening their existence, their distribution and disappearance around the world. The information raises a number of other important issues for the Greek countryside, such as the reduction in deer populations, the declining use of Greek sheepdogs (a breed which Arcturos is also trying to promote), the proliferation of garbage dumps that attract wolves closer to inhabited areas, and the fact that many livestock breeders abandon carcasses without burying them, a practice which also draws wolves close to settlements. Livestock breeders’ ongoing war against wolves is complicated by another issue involving the Greek State. Breeders can claim compensation every time a wolf kills more than four animals in a flock. However, if a single wolf makes a series of attacks on a flock of sheep, killing one animal each time, which is what usually happens, the owner cannot claim compensation even if he loses as many as 15 sheep within a month. Arcturos has suggested specific measures, chiefly concerning prevention, and has asked for changes to the compensation scheme. ‘Wolf’ – a LIFE program Fifty percent of the funding for the «Wolf» project, which began in 1998, comes from the European Union (DG XI LIFE – NATURE) and the rest from Arcturos and the Ministry of Agriculture. The basic principle behind the project is that no species should disappear because of human beings, who have to find ways of co-existing with all other species. Data about wolves is collected mainly from stockbreeders, in the areas where the wolf is present, who radio-track wolves in the project area under investigation (mainland Greece) to collect data about the ecology of the Greek wolf and listing rubbish dumps and evidence of wolves’ dependency of them. With regard to the protection of livestock, Arcuturos supports the breeding of Greek sheepdogs and supplying them to stockbreeders in the project area under investigation. It also provides supplementary compensation for stockbreeders in the project area under investigation when the Greek Agricultural Insurance (GAI) covers only part of the losses or none at all, and is working with the GAI to revise the national compensation system with regard to damage caused by wolves.