Wolverines bring work to peripheral regions
Location: Eastern Finland – Finland,
Story by: Eero Kortelainen
Eero Kortelainen manages a company specialised in the organisation of directed nature trips in Lieksa, Eastern Finland. The company’s hides provide an opportunity to observe and photograph wild, large carnivores, especially wolverines, in their natural habitat. Kortelainen’s objective is to dispel fears and prejudices. “Erä-Eero” is a good example of how responsibly organised eco-tourism can boost the economy of peripheral regions.
There are four large carnivores living in Finland: the bear, wolf, wolverine and lynx. The wolf and wolverine are classified as extremely endangered species. The bear and lynx are classed as “vulnerable,” therefore nearly endangered. Our operation boasts opportunities for observing and photographing large carnivores all year: at our hides you can see wolverines daily, bears now and again and seeing a wolf would not be impossible. Furthermore, lynxes, beavers, goshawks, golden and white-tailed eagles are occasional visitors.
Before starting the photo hide business, my company offered all other kinds of nature-tourism. However, this was not worthwhile. Then I heard that large carnivore observing and photographing business operations had began in a neighbouring county, Kuhmo. So, I decided to give it a go. I began by building a hide meant for just observing. Soon, nature photographers began to show interest, so we also built a proper photo hide.
Personally, my favourite large carnivore is the wolverine. Each night at our hides is one-of-a-kind. Wolverines occasionally fight one another and the activities of their young are fun to watch. Many are drawn here by the possibility of photographing bears, but end up enthralled by the activities of wolverines.
We work on the animals’ terms. To observe the animals we must organise feeding. Some bodies oppose the feeding of large carnivores, but it can be carried out in many different ways. Carcass feeding is regulated by various laws and decrees that need to be followed to the letter. Maintaining a photo hide requires permission from the land owner, the carcass must not be placed close to habitation and it must not cause the contamination of land or waterways. We follow all of these regulations. Furthermore, our feedings are mainly on a small scale, large carcasses are seldom used. I can assure you that around here large carnivores are still wary of humans.
I want to spread information, especially about wolverines, but also about our other large carnivores and their habits. At the same time, I wish to improve their protection. I regularly share photos and videos on Facebook, where my company has a large following. My objectives are also supported by the live camera project “Luontolive” started in cooperation with WWF in September 2018. At luontolive.wwf.fi/en you can follow live feeds from our hides and with any luck sneak a peek of a wolverine with your own eyes. I believe and hope that cooperation with WWF will provide the right image of wolverines and their behaviour to people around the world, and also promote interest in observing and photographing wolverines in real life.
Tourism is an activity that an bring society closer to large carnivores and increase the real knowledge on the species among citizens. When the participants observe these animals in the wild, a bond is created and the awareness of the needs and the lifestyle of the animals is rising. For some, this experience is a dream come true. There are a lot of different activities that can be offered: photo tourism, talks, field trips with biological materials (skulls and skins), tracking courses or observation trips. Also a visit to a shepherd and other people who have historically shared the territory can be arranged to let the public know.
OUTCOME AND OUTLOOK
Large carnivore observance and photo hide operations are a locally significant source of livelihood especially in Kainuu, North Karelia and Koillismaa. The operation’s annual turnover is estimated to be over 3 million euro and its impact on employment approximately 105 person-years. It is one of the few ways that our persecuted large carnivores can improve the economy of our otherwise poorly performing peripheral regions. In addition to myself, my company employs one person. 80% of my customers are foreign. They come to Lieksa because here the wolverine can be photographed more certainly than anywhere else.
We still have lots of work to do when it comes to changing attitudes since the discussion surrounding large carnivores in Finland is quite polarised. The conservationists and bodies against the conservation of large carnivores rarely converse. However, it is clear that the matter will not be resolved by anything other than conversation. I am hopeful and see change as a possibility.
Wolverines are considered to be nasty predators. However, personal experience, be it at our hides or through WWF’s “Luontolive,” can change attitudes. Wolverines are such ugly animals, many people say. My answer to this is that you have clearly never even seen a wolverine.
Information about wolverine
The Wolverine is the least known predator in Europe. Wolverines are living solitary and are territorial, the territorities of members of the same sex only slight overlap. They feed on different species as reindeer or rodents and also are a threat to domestic animals like sheep or reindeer that are kept in herds. That leads to a low tolerance of them. Wolverines only live in the northern realms of Europe within two populations: The Scandinavian population with 800 up to 1.000 animals in Norway and Sweden and the Karelian one in Finland with 200 up to 250 individuals. While the first is recently decreasing, the second one is slightly increasing. A lot of wolverines get killed illegally and many countries established harvest quotas although the species is strongly protected.
Number of large carnivores in Europe
According to the report ‘The revival of wolves and other large predators and its impact on farmers and their livelihood in rural regions of Europe‘ (Linell, Cretois, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, 2018) there are an estimated 1,000-1,250 wolverines, 8,000 – 9,000 Eurasian lynx, 15,000- 16,000 brown bears and 17,000 wolves present in continental Europe (excluding Russia and Belarus). These are however fragmented into 32 populations (9 for wolves, 10 for bears, 11 for lynx and 2 for wolverines) which vary widely in size from some tens of individuals (and accordingly listed as Critically Endangered) to many thousands (and listed as Least Concerned). Individuals of at least one large carnivore species have been registered in all European countries, except for Luxemburg, during the last 6 years. All carnivore populations overlap with at least one, and up to five, EU countries.