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CNN Today

Russia: Population Explosion May Doom Native Wolves

Aired December 18, 2000 - 4:55 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: With the thawing of the Cold War, a burning concern of Western environmentalists has spread to the hinterlands of Russia.

But as we hear from CNN's Gary Strieker, it may be too late to protect an animal doomed by a population explosion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY STRIEKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his backyard, Mikhail Starodubtsev (ph) has a few orphans: five wolf pups he found in a den when they were only a few days old. He likes to give them his dog to play with, though the dog seems to know the wolves would probably eat him if they were a bit older.

Mikhail has been a forest ranger in Southwestern Russia for more than 50 years. And he says he likes wolves. But he admits he's killed many of them in his time, including the mother of these pups. He's got a small wolf exhibit in his tool shed, a kind of testimonial to his affection for these animals.

He says, "The wolf is like a sanitary cleaner in the forest: preying on sick and weak animals. It's necessary to have them around," he says. "But when there are too many, some of them must be killed."

That's the policy in Russia for hundreds of years. Killing wolves allows prey animals, like deer and wild boar, to multiply. And that's what human hunters want. The government still pays a bounty to anyone who kills a wolf outside protected reserves. But officials in Moscow say there are still too many wolves in Russia: at last count, more than 44,000 of them across the country.

Nearly 13,000 wolves were killed last year alone. But officials claim that's not enough to keep them under control. They say there's no money for the transport, fuel and weapons to do the job. But there's a growing movement in Russia, influenced by new ecological thinking in the West, that would give a greater role to wolves in these forests, allowing a natural balance between wolves and their prey.

But wildlife biologist Andrei Poyarkov (ph) says many Russians are still deeply afraid of wolves. And he expects the annual wolf kills will continue, even increase. Mikhail says he'll release these wolves back to the forest, where they'll have to take their chances against bounty hunters like all the others.

Gary Strieker, CNN, in Voronezh, Russia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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