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The big, bad wolf is alive and well in Kazakhstan

30 october 2013, 12:39
5

I’ve never been one to moon over celebrities, but I wanted you all to know I’m thinking about starting a Daulet Tuyeshiev fan club.

Daulet isn’t a movie star. Or a TV talk-show host. Or a singer.

He’s cooler. He strangles wolves with his bare hands.

You may have read about the wolf that attacked the former police officer in western Kazakhstan’s Mangistau Province.

The predator picked the wrong guy. The score in the life-or-death contest ended up being Daulet 1, Wolf 0.

I was so surprised that a wolf would attack a full-grown man in daylight that I began reading about wolves in Kazakhstan – and discovered some surprising information. The biggest surprise was that wildlife experts believe Kazakhstan has more wolves than any country in the world – about 90,000.

With that many, and natural food such as saiga antelope in increasingly short supply, wolves are attacking more farm animals such as cattle and sheep – and occasionally people.

Back to my hero Daulet, for a moment. A wolf pounced on his back as he was bending over checking his car near the town of Zhetybai.

It was clear from the outset that Daulet would have a heckuva fight on his hands, with the wolf biting him on the back, arms and legs.

"At first I thought it was a dog, but then, during the skirmish, I understood I was fighting a wolf," Tuyeshiev told the newspaper Lada.kz.

He strangled the wolf in self-defense, then drove himself to a hospital for treatment.

Farmers in the region where Daulet lives told Lada.kz that they killed two dozen wolves that attacked their cattle during last year’s tough winter.

The idea that two dozen wolves could be killed in a relatively small area is what prompted me to go to the Internet to learn more about wolves in Kazakhstan.

As I was reading, I came across two riveting videos, which I’ll discuss in more detail later in this blog. One video is a short film about wolves in Kazakhstan:

The other is one of the most incredible wildlife videos I’ve ever seen. It shows Mongolians hunting wolves with golden eagles – and the eagles winning.

Although the video is about Mongolian hunters, I’m including it in this blog because Kazakhs also hunt with golden eagles -- so the film applies as much to Kazakhstan as to Mongolia.

 The figure of 90,000 wolves roaming  Kazakhstan came from a National Wildlife Federation article in 2007.

Writer Christopher  Pala noted that wildlife experts estimate that Canada, which is three times larger than Kazakhstan’s 1 million square miles, has only 60,000 wolves.

“In Soviet days, some 1,000 professional hunters killed thousands of the wolves yearly to collect government bounties,” Pala wrote. “In 1988, just before the Soviet economy collapsed, the hunters killed 16,000 wolves.”

Soviet hunters got a bounty of 140 rubles per wolf, which made their hunting efforts worthwhile, Igor Dmitriyev wrote in Gazeta.kz in 2005.

But wolf hunting has become unprofitable since then, Pala reported. “Only about 2,000 wolves are killed yearly” in Kazakhstan, which means the population has soared.

The typical bounty for a wolf was $40 Pala in 2007. It’s almost double that today, but many hunters consider it still too little to be worth their while.

Meanwhile, since Kazakhstan became independent in 1991, poachers have decimated the population of saiga antelope, the wolves’ main prey. About 1.5 million saiga roamed Kazakhstan in the 1980s. Today the figure is 40,000.

Poachers find a ready market for the horns in neighboring China, which uses them in traditional medicine, Pala explained.

Although Pala wrote his article six years ago, as far as I can tell, Kazakhstan’s wolf situation is little changed. Some provinces offer bounties for the animals, but other spending priorities mean budgets for wolf extermination are limited.

Dmitriyev noted in Gazeta.kz that a wolf eats between 4 and 5 kilograms of meat a day. I’m guessing that means that wolf-related livestock losses are in the millions of dollars a year here.

Now back to the videos I mentioned earlier.

The one about wolves in Kazakhstan has excellent footage of raising wolves in captivity, a grizzled hunter going out after wolves and other story lines. The script is disappointing in that it fails to say where the action is taking place or  weave the footage together into a whole. It’s still worth viewing, however.

The video of the golden eagles hunting wolves has no script. It consists of scene after scene of eagles swooping down on wolves. The only sound is a throat singer’s guttural wailing.

Two things in the footage astonished me. First, the wolves the eagles are hunting are full-grown, not cubs or teen-agers.

I know a golden eagle is a massive bird, but a full-grown wolf can weigh 100 pounds. Yet the eagles are killing the wolves, not just giving them a dusting-off.

And unlike rabbits or most of the other prey that eagles go after, wolves have the equipment to fight back – nasty sets of teeth. Yet the eagles get the best of them anyway.

For me the highlight of the video is a hefty wolf giving a golden eagle a really good fight – until a second eagle swoops down to help its mate. At which point, the wolf is a goner.

The lesson is that an adult wolf has no chance against an adult golden eagle. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen the video.

wolf photo of Hal Foster

A documented wolf attack in an Almaty restaurant. Photo courtesy of Hal Foster

 


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