Some say Kazakhstan is probably home to the world's largest population of wolves. There are an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 wolves in Kazakhstan, compared 60,000 in Canada and 45,000 in Russia, the homes of the world's second and third largest populations of wolves. One source for the 90,000 number is the Institute of Zoology of the Ministry of Science and Education of Republic of Kazakhstan. Another source is Christopher Pala wrote in National Wildlife. [Source: Christopher Pala National Wildlife, June. July, 2007 ++]

With its natural prey — namely as saiga antelope — in increasingly short supply, wolves are attacking more farm animals such as cattle and sheep – and occasionally people. According to one study, wolves killed an estimated 150,000 domesticated in 1987 and 1988, mostly camels, cows and sheep, and 14,000 wild animals, including bear, deer, ibexes, elk and big horn sheep. There have been 50 attacks by rabid wolves on humans. An estimated 15,000 wolves were killed by hunters in Russia and Kazakhstan in 1998.

According to the International Wolf Center: 1) Little is known about the wolves here. 2) Species: Common Name: gray wolf; Latin Name: Canis lupus. Subspecies: Canis lupus lupus. 3) Number of wolves: About 30,000. Population trend: Stable. Legal protection: No protection. Most recent wolf data available: 2007. [Source: International Wolf Center]

Wolves, Humans, Prey and Poaching in Kazakhstan

Christopher Pala wrote in National Wildlife: “Kazakhstan — a sparsely populated, semidesert country of slightly more than 1 million square miles — probably has more wolves than any nation in the world, as many as 90,000. n Soviet days, some 1,000 professional hunters killed thousands of the wolves yearly to collect government bounties. In 1988, just before the Soviet economy collapsed, the hunters killed 16,000 wolves. But since then, wolf hunting has not been profitable in Kazakhstan; only about 2,000 wolves are killed yearly for a $40 bounty, and the animal's numbers have risen sharply. At the same time, poachers have reduced the Kazakhstan wolf's main prey species, the saiga antelope, from 1.5 million to perhaps 150,000, selling horns to the Chinese, who use it in traditional medicine. ++

“The great number of saiga accounted for the large number of wolves in Kazakhstan. Now, after the antelope's decline, says Gaziz Dusenbayev, a 27-year-old farmer, "Every winter, the wolves come down from the hills and attack our cattle. This year, I have given three sheep to the wolves. That's worth $200, and for me that's a lot of money." In the spring, they go back to the remote, lightly wooded Amangeldy Hills to reproduce and feed on small mammals. ++

“But the Kazakhs, who admire wolves for their cunning and courage, bear them no grudge. A tour of an area where many wolf attacks have been reported found everyone horrified at the suggestion that perhaps the wolf should be eradicated as it was in the United States and Western Europe. "There are just too many, that's all," said Galina Yakovna, who had watched helplessly as a pair of wolves recently snatched her favorite dog from her yard. "But they are part of nature." +++

There were once 3 million saiga — a kind of wild antelope with a strange snout — roaming the steppes of Kazakhstan. Now there are only around 150,000. The rest have been lost to hunters, loss of habitat and pollution. Hundreds of thousands of saiga are believed to have died as a result of a single accident in 1985 when a Proton rocket blasting off from the cosmodrome at Baiknonure crashed a sprayed fuel over thousands of square kilometers of steppe.

Igor Dmitriyev wrote in Gazeta.kz in 2005 that Soviet hunters got a bounty of 140 rubles per wolf, which made their hunting efforts worthwhile, he said. Dmitriyev also noted that a wolf eats between 4 and 5 kilograms of meat a day. [Source: Hal Foster, Tengri News, October 30, 2013]

Villagers Use 'Guard Wolves' for Protection

In some places in Kazakhstan villagers use 'guard wolves' for protection. The BBC reported: “Villagers in Kazakhstan are increasingly turning to an unusual animal to guard their land - wolves, it's been reported. "You can buy a wolf cub for just $500 (£320), they say, and hunters are adamant that if treated well the wild animal can be tamed," the KTK television channel reports. [Source: BBC, December 17, 2014 ^/^]

“Nurseit Zhylkyshybay, from the south-eastern Almaty region, tells the channel he bought a wolf cub, Kurtka, from hunters three years ago, and the animal is perfectly happy wandering the yard of his house. "He's never muzzled, I rarely put him on a chain and do take him for regular walks around the village. Our family and neighbours aren't scared of him at all," Mr Zhylkyshybay insists. "If the wolf is well fed and cared for, he won't attack you, although he does eat a lot more than a dog." ^/^

“But wolf expert Almas Zhaparov says the animals are "far too dangerous" to keep at home. "A wolf is like a ticking bomb, it can go off at any moment," he tells KTK. "If nothing is done, the fashion could spread to wealthy Kazakhs," who might try to keep wolves in the grounds of their houses, with possibly deadly consequences, he warns. Social media users are overwhelmingly apprehensive about the trend, although a few accuse the government of failing to cull wolves in the first place. "You can't blame villagers for using wolves to fend off wolves," says one person on the Nur news portal. Another user engages in a little black humour: "The sheep are in the pen, and the wolves have full bellies - but no one can find the shepherd." ^/^

Kazakh Man 'Kills Wolf with Bare Hands'

In September 2013, RIA Novosti: A man in Kazakhstan killed a wolf with his bare hands after it attacked and wounded him in a desolate steppe town, a news report said. Former police officer Daulet Tuyeshiev told the Lada.kz newspaper that the wolf jumped on his back when he was inspecting his car in the town of Zhetybai. The predator started biting his back and limbs and he had to strangle it to save his life, he said. [Source: RIA Novosti, September 6, 2013 ]

Hal Foster wrote in Tengri News: “ 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. [Source: Hal Foster, Tengri News, October 30, 2013]

Tuyeshiev said he rushed to the hospital, while the wolf's dead body was burned by local elders, the paper said. Local police confirmed the incident, the paper added. Residents said they had to kill two dozen wolves that attacked their cattle during the unusually cold past winter, the report said.

“Tuyeshiev's battle with the beast is not an unprecedented incident.: In November 2012, “Aishat Maksudova, 56, from Russia's mountainous republic of Dagestan, survived a wolf attack by initially fighting it off with her bare hands and then hacking the animal to death with an ax, RIA Novosti reported.”

Hunting Wolves in Kazakhstan

A Kazakhstan government promotion for wolf hunting goes: The wolf - one of the cleverest and dangerous predators, valued by hunters for firmness and wisdom, it is such only there where at it don't forget to look through a sight cut. For today,according to Institute of zoology of the Ministry of Science and Education of Republic of Kazakhstan, population of wolf totals about 90,000 individuals in Kazakhstan. Its perfection as a wild animal is result of constant hunting for it. [Source: Welcome to Kazakhstan \~/]

“ Hunting for wolves in Kazakhstan is interesting and dynamical, demands from the hunter a lot of skill and patience. Optimum time for bagging of trophies from January, 15th till March, 10th, especially during the period of "wolf weddings" - from the end of January till the end of February. Wolves - inhabitants of steppes and foothills. Hunting for them is spent by a method of pursue on specially equipped off-road cars 4 x 4 types "Prado Toyota" and "Mitsubisi Delika" (including at night), or "from the approach" after detection of a predator in the field-glass. Combination of a smooth-bore gun (better 12 calibres) and rifles with an optical sight does better for such hunting. At good snow cover snowmobiles are very effectively used. Hunting for wolves from the helicopter is very productive. \~/

“The average size of the begged trophies is 120-150 centimetres. Hunting areas are 100 - 700 kilometres away from Almaty city, time in a way 2-10 hours. On the journey soft drinks and dishes of national or European cuisine will be offered you. We will provide you and your conductor with the short dictionary-phrase book for convenience of dialogue and mutual understanding. Rest is provided in a small house or a yurta. Toilet is outside. \~/

“Temperature drop for hunting period is from + 5 to - 25 C. Optimum quantity of hunters in the group - 2-4 people. Duration of the hunting tour - 8 days. From them 6 days - hunting. During this trip you will have a chance to get acquainted with the way of life of local residents, ethnic cuisine of Kazakhs and their traditions. In the Almaty city you can arrive by direct flight from Europe.” \~/

Hunting Wolves with Golden Eagles in Central Asia

Kyrgyz and Kazakhs in Mongolia use golden eagles to hunt wolves. The eagle hunters usually go after foxes and other relatively small mammals but occasionally catch wolves. On a video about golden eagles hunting wolves, Hal Foster wrote in Tengri News: “ The video... 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. [Source: Hal Foster, Tengri News, October 30, 2013]

“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.

The use of raptors in the hunting of wolves is primarily practised in Central Asia. The Kyrgyz people have traditionally used golden eagles, known as berkut, to hunt wolves. In the past, wolf pelts provided material for clothes crucial for the survival of the nomadic people in the severe colds. The eagles are used to immobilize the wolves by placing one foot at the back of the neck and another at the flank closer to the heart and lungs. Hunters usually only use eagles against pups, as an adult wolf can cripple in combat even a highly experienced eagle. Losing even one toe or talon will significantly lower the eagle's ability to tackle prey. Only a minor injury to the sinew of a foot may leave the eagle incapable of further hunting. As a wolf is capable of resisting even the best-trained bird, the falconer always keeps near, ready at the first opportunity to help the eagle. This is done carefully, as the wolf, sensing human presence, fights desperately to tear loose from the bird's talons, and the eagle can be severely injured. Because of the violent nature of their work, eagles trained to hunt wolves have shorter life spans. [Source: Wikipedia]

Using Eagles to Hunt Wolves

Darren Naish wrote in Tetrapod Zoology, “Eagles can be trained, of course, meaning that people can get them to do remarkable things that seem contrary to sensible behaviour: they can use them to hunt wolves, for example. The Kirghiz tribesmen of central Asia have long been known to use Golden eagles to catch wolves, and in fact Marco Polo (c. 1254-1324) wrote of “a great number of eagles, all trained to catch wolves, foxes, deer and wild goats”. This would have been some time in the 1270s, when Polo was in his twenties. John Love, in his 1989 book on eagles, wrote of a Kirghizian eagle that captured 14 wolves in a day. The precise role of these wolf-hunting eagles has been some somewhat uncertain, in the literature at least. [Source: Darren Naish, Tetrapod Zoology, Science Blogs, December 10, 2010 =]

“Some authors state that the eagle’s job is not to kill the wolf, but to hold it down until its trainer is able to arrive (on horseback) and dispatch the wolf with a knife. However, as is illustrated by the fact that Golden eagles can kill mammals bigger and heavier than wolves by a powerful strike directed at the back of the skull, a trained eagle would in fact be able to kill even an adult wolf if it approached quickly enough and struck the wolf, from behind, in the right place. Accordingly, other authors state that the eagle’s role is to kill – rather than just pin down – the wolf. Wikipedia’s entry on this subject states that “These eagles are so fast and powerful that they are capable of killing a fully grown wolf by diving at speed and striking the wolf on the back of the head or neck” [the adjacent photo shows the skin of a wolf, killed by an eagle, hanging on the outside of the house of a Kazakh hunter. Photo courtesy of S. Bodio]. Indeed, I know from film I’ve seen that the eagles certainly can and do kill the wolves during these hunts. =

“Some wolves prove particularly challenging quarry, however, and there is the tale of one that foiled the attempts of 11 eagles – killing each one – until it was finally dispatched thanks to the efforts of a twelfth eagle. Love (1989) intimated that wolf-hunting with eagles is all but extinct in modern times but, as you can see from this 2006 blog post by Steve Bodio (and from his 2003 book Eagle Dreams: Searching for Legends in Wild Mongolia), this is certainly not true. And if you’re sceptical of the existence of wolf-killing eagles (for reasons I cannot quite understand, some people are), there are a few graphic youtube videos: this is the most informative one (definitely NOT to be viewed by people with an overly sympathetic view of nature). =

“I said at the start that the idea of an eagle attacking a wolf might seem “contrary to sensible behaviour”. But, as people who know eagles will tell you, this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t, or can’t, happen on occasion in the wild. Golden eagles can and do definitely kill coyotes and foxes, so the idea of one making a mistake, or just being bold enough, to try and take out a wolf is not far-fetched. It might not go to plan for the eagle*, but animals frequently make mistakes, and raptors are by nature remarkably bold and sure of their abilities. And remember that some Golden eagles have become confident, regular predators of large mammals: the individuals in New Mexico that took to killing domestic cattle killed at least six calves and injured 48 (yes, forty-eight) during 1987, 1988 and 1989** before they were captured and removed (Phillips et al. 1996). =

“What else might be possible? There are various anecdotes of eagles that were trained to kill horses and donkeys, and of course there are all those tales of eagles attacking people (adults as well as children). Steve Bodio told me about a case from Kazakhstan where a Golden eagle tried to take a Snow leopard, but the cat won. And there are also authenticated cases of eagles attacking planes and gliders...The idea of big eagles attacking people is typically regarded as fairytale nonsense. It isn’t.” =

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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