Volha Kaskevich, head of the mire protection front “Bahna”, went to the very North of Belarus, to Rasonsky region and took from there a philosophical audio story about the wolf. Or most probably about you and me and our attitude to the outside world. So move your ears closer!
My story is about wolves, about people who protect them, about people who kill them.
This is a tangle of different views: of a scientist-zoologist Dzmitry Shamovich, Master of Science in biology, who has become the leader of a wolf pack and has been living with it for several years in the North of Belarus; of an ethologist from Georgia Yason Badrydze, who’s famous for living with wolves in the forest; and of the hunters for whom wolf hunting is everyday work and sport. Among my characters’ monologues, there’re some pieces from the book written by the Canadian auther, biologist and ethnographer Farley Mowat “Never cry wolf”, which has influenced a lot on my point of view.
Wolf is a predator that hasn’t been welcomed in our country for many years already. Wolves aren’t researched on a serious basis today in Belarus but are shoot a lot. In hunting rules nowadays it’s stated to be an undesired species, and it actually means the right for general extermination: wolves can be killed in any place and at any time without any permission. This wild animal survived only because it’s very curious and cautious because it can run away from people and hide its den. In most of the cases, wolves are treated in a negative way. It is perceived as a hazardous predator, which is really dangerous for people and domestic animals, and for hunters, it’s the main competitor for hoofed animals hunting.
Somewhere in the East, a wolf started howling, softly, as if asking something… The animal’s voice told about the lost world, which used to belong to us until we, people, found our own way, in the end being kicked out by each other”. My story is an emotional path towards yourself, towards the world where people and wolves are equal nature habitats.
Text and audio by Volha Kaskevich
00.11 The wolf has been proven guilty, which is known to us as a fierce murderer according to legends. The government has set the task to prepare a scientific explanation of the elimination of a suspected criminal. To implement this task it was necessary to find a biologist, who could examine wolves’ behavior on the spot, to be able to confirm an official theory.
00.35 My name is Dmitry Shamovich. I’m a biologist, I took a postgraduate course in the National Academy of Sciences, in biology institute. So, now I’m doing scientific research in the field of vertebral animals ecology and ecotourism organization around the country of Belarus.
00.59 We can say that this is the very north of Belarus, the north of the Rossonsky region, not far from the border with Russia. This is the so-called Southern taiga zone. We are staying here in a half-abandoned village, the village is called Sosnoviy Bor. And we live here and here we actually do some scientific research, sort to say.
01.33 May 3, I’m chasing phantoms. I hear howling every night, I saw their tracks and gathered their excrements. So I haven’t just imagined them.
02.11 The wolf is a predator, the predator of a higher level in the food chain, sort to say. To be scared of it or not, depends undoubtedly on a spot, geographical location and on time.
02.29 As you understand, in the distant past, in vast Siberian lands, or in same Belarus after the war there was a photo where wolves were coming in chains of 30-40 wolves. Due to evolution, they live in packs, in groups. So, when you live together with your whole life, you need some rules of your own behavior.
02.56 This hierarchy, this status of certain animals is maintained by some physical methods, though they don’t lead to any injuries. In other words, you must always be the pack leader to make others implicitly obey you and not to become a victim of practicing these physical methods. As you´re just human and you don´t have teeth, it´s hard to reply with this.
03.34 That´s why there shouldn´t be any inclinations to do this, but just when you communicate with them, from time to time you need to display somehow your superiority. They know all of this, for example, you can bring them down, it´s one of the approaches. They will perceive it normally. I mean, if one animal brings another animal down, it´s an indicator of a higher position in the hierarchy.
04.02 Then you can take its two jaws in your hand, just like this, to grasp its muzzle with your hand, to grip it. Of course, they do it with their muzzle and they understand all of this. Even if it doesn’t want it, sometimes you can slightly throw it down a bit harder. In other words, they shouldn’t be scared of. They are totally adequate animals, thus, a healthy wolf will never come up and bite anyone.
04.31 They have a very developed body language, practically like dogs, so, a tail, their ears, teeth, lips. If it has its tail between its legs, it’s clear that it´s some sort of a submissive state or fear. If its tail wags, it´s a friendly attitude. So, if an upper lip is raised a little, a wolf grins. So, it´s a warning, sort of stand where you stand, don’t move closer, especially if it happens during meat sharing-out.
04.58 If its tail stretches straightly along its back, and sort to say, its ears are up and its withers hair is slightly raised, this is an attack position and you’d better smooth this situation over somehow. It’s practically impossible, you know, to raise them and live with them in one house, as if it was a dog, because a wolf is still not a dog, and it won’t just lie on a doormat at home. If it’s in one room with you, sooner or later it will turn it into one big mess.
5.48 Let’s assume that I’m watching his behavior, but all he’s doing is watching me. I don’t remember to ever been watched like that, with such great attention.
6.22 Again, as far as they’re social animals, they live in groups, they need some source of communication. So, howling performs many functions. Both hunters and biologists know about it. It’s a territory marking, let’s say, in a neighboring pack they can mark their lands. It’s also a source of communication between pack members, for example, to gather young animals, which ran around somewhere last night, into one group. And also this is a source of communication between a he-wolf and a she-wolf in their den.
06.59 For example, when a he-wolf approaches the den, a she-wolf doesn’t always let him in, especially at first and he starts howling a bit. She comes to him from the distance and so he gives her some food. So, there’re many functions both inside and among packs.
07.22 Why are they howling like that? They howl when they’re lonely. They call for their friends. That’s how wolves know where to look for each other, and then they can meet. July 12. Some time ago it became interesting to observe the creatures that live and feel not like me.
08.04 I’m always at a distance. I’m isolated, cut off from the rest of the world. I envy wolves their perception of life. They are always in touch with the outside world, walking freely around their territory, listening attentively to everything around. Here a rabbit has been running recently. And here the water is tasty.
08.29 The whole Universe is open in front of them, something that we will never be able to get to know. And I’m just sitting and observing them with binoculars, filling the papers in triplicate, trying to assign a part for the wolf on the pages of my journal. What will happen when I finish my research? These wolves have become a part of my own world. What will happen next?
09.04 At first we came to the forest with this, I heard a wolf’s howling. That was a frightful impression, something tremendous. Everything turned over inside of me and still when I hear howling, some agitation comes, it feels like running away. It’s hard to explain. This is how it all began. And when the question of what to do in life was put point-blank, of course, I chose them. Yes, initially I was an experimenter, I was studying behavioral physiology.
09.31 But soon I realized that we were studying the mechanism of something we didn’t know anything about at all. The life of an animal in the wild nature was almost unknown. There were almost no publications on wolves at that time. I tried to study the group behavior of dogs, but soon I realized that they had lost many behavioral traits. And then I decided to live with wolves for some time. I went into the same ravine me and my dad used to wonder when I was a child, and I found its family. I was interested in how the behavior was formed.
10.01 For example, the way they teach their wolf cubs to hunt. So, I found out the tracks, took old nappies that my children had outgrown from, put them on so that they would be soaked with my smell and I started spreading these pieces along the tracks. The wolf has a strong neophobia, they’re afraid of everything new. But on the other hand, they want to explore everything. So, they live all the time with such a conflict. The wolves started passing around those pieces from afar.
10.29 It was interesting to watch how the distance between us was gradually getting less. And in the end, they started tearing these pieces apart, and then I started putting pieces of meat there. When they began to eat it a bit, it meant they had already got used to my smell. This all lasted for around 4 months. Either specialists in wolves or some biologists, ecologists go there to accomplish some of their professional tasks.
11.02 April 16. Warms days inspire me with tranquility and hope. If any fears are left, they appear only from the realization of my own insignificance.
11.26 Felt cloak, backpack, mess-tins. I didn’t take a tent with me, of course. If I needed to make a fire, I went down to the river. I knew already all their tracks, knew where their daytime bed was. One morning I saw at the track that they had recently walked there. An adult he-wolf and she-wolf, they wanted to find a den for their wolf cubs. And I remained there waiting for them around 50 meters from the track. Around noon they were coming back, and when they saw me, the she-wolf stopped while a strong he-wolf came directly to me, stood around 50 meters away from me and looked at me.
12.02 What a state I was in, really, when from such a small distance a wild animal was looking into your eyes, and you were unarmed, and he knew about it. My father taught me that there was nothing worse than running from a wild animal. It would still catch you up. So, he was standing there and was looking and looking at me and then all of a sudden he roared, came back to the track and went away.
12.32 But I couldn’t move with my tongue, as if it had got numb. But it was clear already that I could try it on with them. He tried me out to see my reaction and he saw that I was neither going to attack or running away and exactly after that case, it became possible to walk with them. They were walking and I was following them 50 or 100 meters behind. I went where they went to. That’s how I was always with them.
12.58 I was in a good shape thanks to my father. He founded a local stuntmen school and I had been taking up acrobatics since early childhood. I knew everything: how to jump, where to fall, but still, it was hard to follow them. And they totally ignored me, as if I didn’t exist at all. But all that time I was walking with them. I stayed for a night together with them.
13.30 The thing is that these wolves had seen me much earlier than I saw them. While I was studying their tracks, they had already known me physiognomically. And they understood that my presence insured their safe life from hunters. There was terrible poaching there at that time, there were traps everywhere, they were chased. They gave 50 rubles for a dead wolf. And I negotiated with hunters under threat of a fight: while I was there, not a wolf could be killed.
14.03 Hunting farms here in Belarus are created to raise hoofed animals, as a rule. Wolves certainly consume a certain part of these animals. This is normal, we can say it’s their evolutional place in our ecosystem.
14.25 Hunters and hunting farms regard wolves as their rivals because the number of animals eaten by wolves could be theoretically sold to foreign hunters. It means that the fewer wolves are on the territory of a hunting farm, the more hoofed animals live there, it’s possible to increase their density and thus, to increase the number of sales
15.35 Nowadays it’s officially forbidden to hunt for wolves in the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve. This is a high-quality nature territory. It has got the diploma of the Council of Europe, and one of the requirements for receiving it was exactly the elimination of wolf hunting there. And despite this, there’s no any wolf population boom in the Berezinsky Reserve.
16.02 Until recently the hunt in the Polesskiy Radiation Reserve was forbidden. As far as this reserve is concerned, this is a totally unique experience on the global scale, because the reserve itself was formed not with the aim of nature preservation, but rather with the aim of moving people out from the territory contaminated with radiation after the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant.
16.28 There’s no any constantly living population on a large territory and that’s why, let’s say, it has turned out to be a sort of a natural experiment, to see what will happen when the human race disappears. That’s why it’s pretty interesting territory, and it concerns wolves as well. For a long time, nobody hunted for them there. That’s why the population stays there in the approximately balanced natural state.
17.01 Although starting from this year, as far as I know, some limited hunting for wolves is going to be allowed, in the Polessky reserve as well. And also we have Naliboki forest, the reserve which is situated not far from Minsk, the so-called hunting reserve, so the hunting was limited for all the animals there, wolves as well.
17.29 Although some years ago they gave limited permission for catching some quota, for wolves as well. But at the rest of the territory of Belarus, if a hunter has permission to stay at hunting areas, there’s no restriction on wolf hunting.
18.01 The last week of August arctic summer was nearly coming to an end. My time there was also coming to an end, and I couldn’t even sleep being afraid of missing anything. It’s hard to imagine that soon I have to leave. But this place doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to wolves. I don’t want to feel sad while saying goodbye. It’s right here where I felt as if I was a kid again.
18.33 Who should go to and say thank you in this Universe?
19.03 You couldn’t settle there for good, do you understand? I would love to, but I couldn’t. I came back in a year and it turned out that before that 54 wolves had been killed, including mine. But you won’t kill these wolves, right?
19.30 These ones no, I don’t think so. Moreover, she would go insane if I killed any of them. Yes, I would like to. Yes
20.01 Its population is regulated, but I think that it should be maximally killed to a minimum, I mean. And this is the most, sort to say, clever animal, so you won’t scare it away with massiveness. I mean, it thinks everything over, hears, senses. So, it’s the most. According to the prestige? According to the prestige, yes. So, to get a wolf is prestigious, that’s right.
20.30 Who sees the track, tell about it through the walkie-talkie. Yes-yes-yes, this direction. Repeat it once again. This direction. Stop, I don’t understand where it came from, where is it there? It’s just come, just come from there, Sash, right from there. Really, yeah? Really, because there it is, it’s going there. What is it doing, it’s gone there. Where is the foot? We’re gonna search for it now. You see we have found a wolf track, a very good one. I see it! Let’s go?
21.00 It’s done! I’ve chased it out! Good job! Good job! Vovan is tracing another one, I can’t find it.. You’re my golden fish! It’s a working one, a working one. This is a bitch, first of all, this is a young bitch, because the teeth, you see, they are not erased at all, I mean, there’s nothing. And there’s the blue, sort to say, a little bit.
21.31 So, she hasn’t had wolf cubs, right? Yes, she’s this year. Basically April offspring, maybe, or May. Do you think it’s this year? Yeah, this year. You see, the teeth, you see its teeth? There they are, white, absolutely spotless, nothing yellow, no roughness. But I think there’re some more of them this direction. One more. So let’s go on the track again now, let’s look, and then we’ll come back here.
22.01 But no, it’s impossible it’s alone. It can’t be so, there must be three young wolves here. Do you see? She is coming from there, you see? From where? It’s likely to have gone there. The main thing is that we’ve killed the predator, which eats all the hunting animals. I think that only a rabid wolf can attack. A person? Yes, if it’s very hungry… So, it’s an ill animal. And in general, according to wolves, it turns out that they kill exactly hunting animals now.
22.31 And there’re few farming animals, that’s why there’s no any burial ground for animals and so on. According to the nutrition, every wolf needs at least 1,5kg of meat. A day, I mean. A day? Yes-yes. 10 days – 15 kg? Yes. 100 days – 150 kg for each one? And a year? A year the numbers are crazy. Yes, it’s minimum, but a wolf is somehow greedy, it can consume even more. We got rid of two of these wolves.
23.00 We have saved at least 2-3 elks, 5 roe deer, and hares don’t count at all.
23.22 Where are your parents? It’s so lonely here. Could they have gone to the north? No, the wolf cubs are here, the wolves couldn’t abandon them. Don’t worry about the wolf cubs, better think about yourself. Everything that happens here is too much for you. The question is how you’re going to survive through all of this?
24.00 The wolves have come for their wolf cubs because there can’t be any orphans among them. Obviously, this autumn losses won’t be forgotten for a long time. I want to believe that the wolves have gone to a wild and distant place.
24.28 But actually I don’t know, because I turned away and didn’t follow them.