Even a single wolf can devastate the hard work of farmers and ranchers. While wolf hunting is forbidden in most of Western Europe, it’s being allowed — for a short time — in Serbia’s southern forests . . .
Rifle fire rips through the silence of the forest and fields on the slopes of Jastrebac mountain in southern Serbia. Two wolves have just fallen victim to a legal hunt.
Forbidden in most of western Europe, the blood sport is allowed from July to April in this Balkan country, where wolves are not endangered.
Around 800 of them roam the wild and depopulated mountains of southern Serbia, a region of mostly poor farmers and herders. It is not uncommon for wolves to attack livestock, especially in winter.
Wolves aren’t seeking to make friends in rural country and they don’t discriminate when it comes to what or who they devour.
“Last year they slaughtered four of my sheep in just five minutes,” said farmer Ivan Milenkovic, who keeps around 60 sheep in the village of Dresnica.
“I installed spotlights that light up every night to deter them,” he told AFP.
Other mountain residents take up arms during the hunting season to counter the wolf attacks. Local hunting associations that monitor the wolf population set quotas.
On a recent cold winter’s dawn, more than 400 hunters gathered near Blace, a town of about 5,000 people between the mountains of Jastrebac and Kopaonik.
After swigging some rakija (local fruit brandy), the hunters split into two groups, the trackers and the watchers, and exchanged their traditional greeting: “Good vision and calm hand!”
The silent watchers spread out in a line through the woods, while the trackers form another line a couple of kilometres away and walk towards the watchers, squeezing the gap between them which holds their prey.
As they wait amid the trees, the watchers examine fresh wolf prints in the snow.
According to regional hunting quotas, six wolves can be killed in the Blace area in one hunting season.
“You wait your whole life to kill a wolf,” said Dejan Pantelic, one of the hunters.
“It’s extremely rare, many never see it. I’ve been hunting for 24 years and I’ve not killed one.”
So clever that they can evade seasoned hunters and in most cases from even being seen at all. Sounds like the perfect killing machine to me.
The wolf is smart with an exceptional sense of smell and hearing, the 42-year-old explained.
And few animals are more mobile—the wolf can easily travel between 50 and 100 kilometres (31 and 62 miles) a day.
“An isolated hunter has practically no chance of killing a wolf, only an organised hunt can yield results,” Pantelic said.
Call me crazy but I’d like to try. Well, OK, with a guide. You?