A landmark trial began this week in Hedmark County, where six hunters are under indictment for alleged illegal wolf hunting. The hunters have all pleaded not guilty, even though the main defendant bragged in a taped phone conversation that he shot a wolf last spring.
“It was great fun, just what we’d hoped for,” he was heard saying in a phone conversation that was tapped by police investigators. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the conversation took place after he’d been out on an alleged fox hunt in March 2014.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported how he’d also been confronted in court on Monday with the tape of a conversation in which he told a friend he’d been out hunting wolves, which are under state protection in Norway after the wolf population became threatened with extinction. The numbers of wolves have risen in recent years, to an estimated 40 at present, but sheep ranchers view them as a threat to their tradition of open grazing, and are constantly urging that the wolf population be reduced.
Authorities reckon that of an estimated 100 wolves killed in Norway in the last 15 years, fully half were killed by illegal hunting and the others in various accidents. State prosecutors ordered cases of suspicious wolf deaths to be investigated more closely, resulting in the court case that started Monday and is expected to run for two weeks.
The 48-year-old hunter on trial in a court in Elverum this week had to listen to himself say the following on another tape played in the courtroom on Monday: “Did you hear that we almost got (all) those wolves during the weekend?,” he asked his friend. “There was a lot to do, there were four shots fired at them.”
He went on to say that “there are three of them left now, so we decided we will try to hunt them down …” He went on to say that he and his fellow hunters tried to hunt the wolves the next day as well, but the wolves got away.
The hunter, who has not been publicly identified in keeping with Norwegian press practice, dismissed the phone conversations as “foolish talk.” He said he had only admitted, under police questioning, that he’d tried to hunt wolves because he wanted to get out of police custody at the time as quickly as possible. Asked whether he remembered telling police that he had only hunted wolves on one day, he declined comment.
The hunter and 11 others were arrested last April in a major police crackdown on illegal wolf hunting. Charges against six of them were later dropped but the six others are indicted for violating the total ban on wolf hunts unless authorized by the state. Norway’s economic crimes unit Økokrim charged the suspects as being part of an organized criminal operation.
Illegal wolf hunting is most recently feared to have taken the life of a female wolf that settled in Oslo’s eastern forest known as Østmarka. The Østmarka wolves, which have been spotted many times, have been generally welcomed by Oslo residents, even those living close to Østmarka, while residents of more rural areas bordering the far eastern and southern sides of Østmarka have complained.