Verdict handed out in south-eastern town of Elverum is historic first step to encouraging people to live with nature, says WWF head in Norway

Five wolf hunters have been given jail sentences in Norway in an unprecedented environmental crackdown to protect a tiny stock of about 35 of the predators living in the country’s eastern pine forests.

The men, who were given terms of between six and 20 months, are the first to be convicted for shooting wolves since a few dozen animals were re-introduced in a joint environmental project with Sweden in the 1990s.

Hunting almost wiped out the species in Norway in the 1960s. Many locals oppose having wolves on their doorsteps, saying they kill sheep and roam close to homes and schools.

Nina Jensen, the head of the WWF conservation group in Norway, said the verdict handed out in the south-eastern town of Elverum was a historic first step that would encourage people to live with nature and allow wolves to roam from the Arctic to the Mediterranean.

“Illegal hunting is the single largest cause of death for wolves in Norway,” she said, urging Norwegians to tolerate packs, perhaps even as a tourist attraction in remote areas.

Over the past winter, about 36 wolves were recorded as living in Norway, with another 39 crossing over the border from bigger stocks in Sweden, according to the environmental monitoring group Rovdata.

A study last year in the journal Science estimated that 12,000 wolves live across 28 European countries that populations are stable or rising.

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