Marko Kübarsepp: few predator researchers

Photo: Algirdas-Andrus Martsoo
Translation: Liis

Marko and "Habe"
Habe ("Beard") is a male wolf, provided with a transmitter on May 23rd, 2012, at 2.00 am. When he was captured Habe weighed 40,8 kg. Body length 127 cm. Age estimated to be three years.
Special recognition sign: an about 3 cm2  piece missing from left ear.
Marko Kübarsepp, well acquainted with the subject of large game animals, talked to journal Loodusesõber in 2010 about the state of wolves in Estonia. 
Marko Kübarsepp, what were your interests and occupations when you were a child? At school? How and why did you arrive at wolves?
My childhood interests were of course always about playing. Since I was born in Tallinn I always yearned to go to the country, to my grandmother who lived at Lake Võrtsjärv. Together with my brother we went there during school holidays. The most miserable feeling was always when in autumn, after a long holiday from school as well as from the city, we had again to go back to the pavements. In addition to my brother my cousins  were at grandmother’s too. There were four of us, and we played together and did all sorts of things. I may have been perhaps around 11 years old when I started to be much more interested in nature than my friends of the same age. I guess I was 12 years old when grandfather gave me Nikolai Rukovski’s book “Mööda ulukite jälgi” (Along game tracks). Together with my brother and cousin we at first went around in forests and fields learning about tracks from the book. Since we were not really very readily let out to roam on our own in the forests we had to be a little deceptive. I also tried to talk my parents into letting me go to school in the country, but of course this idea came to nothing ... At least some of the love for nature reached me in this way.
I read the book given by grandfather very thoroughly and even took it along into the forest. I compiled track charts and other such things and even set up a plaster of Paris collection of track casts. Unfortunately only some few specimens are still left of it. Silently my love for nature and most of all for theriology, the zoology of mammals, deepened more and more.
Wolves have interested me as long as I can remember, but since there were no wolves near grandmother’s home I could not study them. Thus I started to have to do with wolves seriously only in the winter of 1997 when I came for the first time to the Alam-Pedja nature reserve area. Alam-Pedja attracted me primarily precisely because it then had quite many wolves and so also seemed to be suitable to learn to know the wolf as a species.
There I also became acquainted with the then director of the conservation area, nature man Einar Tammur, now deceased, who took a great interest in wolves himself. I would once again like to thank him here; in all ways, Einar was a great support and helped in carrying out the field work and getting to know the local conditions. My visits to Alam-Pedja became more and more frequent until I lived there periodically.
Your first or the most memorable meeting with wolves?
It was in 2001, when I visited Alam-Pedja with Ilmar Rootsi to lure wolves. By imitating howling, Ilmar called a wolf to only about 5 metres away. We were standing on one side of a trench, the wolf on the  other. Because it was such calm weather the wolf didn’t smell us and came so close to us without suspecting anything. The panting of the wolf, and its fervent attempts to catch the scent of the strange “wolf” were audible. As if I had been out walking with my own dog.
This was my first encounter with a wolf at such close quarters, and the feeling was uplifting in all ways. Afterwards there have been more such meetings (I don’t even remember exactly how many) in Alam-Pedja and elsewhere in Estonia.
What is the general level of predator research in Estonia and in what direction do you think that it is going? Have you noticed changes over the last decades?
Compared to the rest of Europe predator research is still in its infancy here. In case of such a small country as Estonia I do not even think that it is correct to talk about games research. The large majority of studies are based on the enthusiasm of a small number of scientists. In the last few years things have started going even more downhill in this respect*. In connection with the decline of the general economic situation the resources for game research have also been strongly reduced. At the same time this is not surprising, because this area is one of the most resource-demanding of all branches of biology. Thus only rich countries can afford this; there, however, large predators have unfortunately been wiped out long ago together with suitable habitats
You live and carry out your research in the country. Are the local reactions similar to what is shown in newsmedia? The attitudes of those whose life wolves maybe might affect the most?
I don’t like to make generalisations, but on the strength of my experiences I can say that it is similar everywhere in Estonia. Much certainly depends on people’s  education and experiences. Who has had many negative experiences in connection with wolves, reacts negatively. In the same way wild boars do not offer much joy to a potato grower whose potatoes they “harvest“ at Midsummer. In the country the „collisions“ between man and wild nature comes more easily. I have heard stories describing  wolf terror that originate from far back in childhood even from people who have grown up in the country, and such convictions die hard, even when there are no real contacts with wolves at all.
How are our wolves doing at the moment? Where are there maybe too many of them, and are there places that they have for some reason had to leave?
At the moment our wolf population is doing relatively well. There has been enough of their staple food up to now, and the hunting pressure has been moderate during recent years. In fact the number of wolves has stayed relatively stable from the moment when a definite hunting period and definite hunting quotas were set up. The hunting quotas are based on the results of the annual surveillance. Thus in the “Suurkiskjate kaitse- ja ohjamiskavas – Large predator protection and management programme” recommended size of the wolf population in spring before the birthing is desirably 100-150 individuals. A couple of years ago a relatively sharp rise in the number of wolves occurred, and so more of them had to be hunted. With an increased number greater damage on domestic animals as a rule also follows. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why the number of wolves has to be controlled. The misdeeds are usually not left unnoticed by us humans, thus breeding resentment, anger and spite against the wolves. The negative attitude of society to the wolf is actually one of the greatest threats to this, and other, species. Here the long-known saying “wolves have eaten, sheep well and healthy“ holds well.
The wolves living in different areas of Europe are different. How big are our wolves, and how healthy?
The wolf that inhabits Estonia is not among the largest in the world. The average weight of wolves shot here is 38 kilos. But individuals of 50 kilos occur too. Stories of 80-kilo wolves are clearly an exaggeration. The largest wolves live in the subarctic zone – northern Canada, Greenland and the Russian subarctic islands. Their weight reaches 70 kilos on average.
The parasite fauna of wolves is, keeping their food preferences in mind, relatively varied. One fifth of the wolves killed last winter had signs of scabies (mange) which is clearly a quite serious hazard. The increased spread of scabies seems to be linked to a strong rise in the abundance of smaller predators, which in turn is related to the anti-rabies vaccination. Thus nature itself has found a replacement for rabies.
In studying and also in hunting a snow cover is a good help. 
The snow cover indeed has a very important role in studying as well as hunting wolves. By following the tracks left in the snow, it allows us to see and explain the movements of the animals, the sizes of home territories, hunting habits and much else. For hunters the snow is a great help in determining the location of the predator. Thus our really rather changeable weather affects field work as well as the success of hunting significantly. 
Interviewer Mats Kangur,
*The interview was published in the journal Loodusesõber in winter 2010.
Presently the situation has improved noticeably: in 2012 three wolves were marked with transmitters in Estonia, and following the activities of the wolves on a daily basis is supported by the KIK (Keskkonnainvesteeringute Keskus – Estonian Environmental Investment Centre).
Marko Kübarsepp in Viljandi City Library
On February 13th, beginning at 17.30 a nature evening “Animal of the year – Wolf“ is arranged in the 3rd floor exhibition hall of Viljandi City Library (Tallinna 11/1). Guest at the nature evening is the head specialist of predator surveillance at the KIK department for game surveillance, Marko Kübarsepp. The wolf as the animal of the year in general, its distribution in Estonia and in the world and its role in the ecosystem will be presented. The behaviour of the species and other interesting aspects will be reviewed, and surveillance and investigation techniques used in Estonia and preliminary findings presented.
Entrance is free. The nature night will last about 2 hours.




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