Each track is being thoroughly registered

Belarusian forests are rich in animals, with over 30,000 elk, around 15,000 red deer, and 75-80,000 roe registered in 2015

Belarusian forests are rich in animals, with over 30,000 elk, around 15,000 red deer, and 75-80,000 roe registered in 2015. Each year’s data is compared, to keep track of growth.

Forest animals registered by their tracks

Wild boar have fallen in number, to around 3,000, due to a cull because of African plague in neighbouring states. Data is gathered over the year, with each animal tracked according to particular methods (with adjustments made due to the weather). The Head of the Hunting Economy Department at the Forestry Ministry, Sergey Shestakov, invites us to help keep track.

In February, all hunting providers countrywide (250 legal entities) — including forestries, public associations and national parks — sent in the latest calculations of hunting animals inhabiting their territory (such as elk, roe, deer and boar). Around 50 subordinate forestries are currently gathering data, overseen by the Forestry Ministry and the State Forest Protection Service.

In the Volozhin District, at the Nalibokskaya Pushcha, Volozhin Forestry’s leading hunting manager, Pavel Sadovsky, tells us that the forestry occupies almost 30,000 hectares and is thought to be home to 85 elk, 90 deer, 180 roe and 7 wild boar. Nine calculating specialists are checking figures, studying the paths of animals and marking them on special maps. The major paths are monitored, with each participant receiving a file with the route description, a pencil (since pens don’t work in cold weather) and a pro-forma document. Data will be collated to provide information on all forestry territory. The chief forester at Volozhin Forestry, Sergey Baranovsky, explains that poles with special marks line every pathway, so it’s not difficult to find your way.

When I join a data collection party, I see that the path is narrow before us. Had it snowed, it would be easy to see the tracks, but there’s hardly been snow here for the past five years at this time of year. The animals are most active early in the morning, so we’re there for 7-8am, when the temperature is around zero. The route stretches for 10km, so it will take 3-4 hours to inspect, until around noon.

Vladimir Prokopovich, who is a hunting guide within the Nalibokskaya Pushcha, logs 6 elk and one or two wolves (they tend to muddy their tracks) as well as a fox. He comments, “A female elk has a sharp forehoof while the male’s is more rounded. Elk often travel alone while females prefer to stay with their young — as roe do. Deer often gather in herds of 15-20 animals, though some can be found singly.  I’ve never noticed packs of wolves, although I found the tracks of ten animals at a single site last year.

Hunting guides assert that they aren’t afraid of animals, which tend to avoid people in the forest, unless they are rabid (in which case, they gravitate towards villages, where people live).

We only log the tracks crossing our path, noting the direction of travel. I see that an elk has walked in parallel to our path but hasn’t crossed it, so we don’t register it in our statistics, as the terms specify. Some might enlarge their figures, registering all tracks, knowing that they’ll receive more hunting licences as a result, and generate more money, but it’s illegal to take this approach. At the same time, under-registration is discouraged, since the correct amount of forage needs to be prepared. If not enough is put out, animals venture into crop fields and into people’s gardens, causing trouble. Accuracy is vital.

The ‘noisy run’ method also works well, with around a hundred people gathering and beaters encouraging animals to move en-mass. It’s rather labour-intensive but a pilotless aircraft was launched in March, which will help. “We’ll conduct tests over a hunting territory in the Logoisk District, where five hunting providers operate. We’re signing agreements at the moment, aiming to begin before the leaves appear on the trees. Tests will be conducted free of charge, with our partner providing us with an operator,” comments Mr. Shestakov.

Afterwards, specialists from the Forestry Ministry will compare data with that obtained by hunting providers during an independent study. Economic figures will also be calculated, using the two sets of figures. From 2017, pilotless aircraft will help in data collection, as agreed by the Ministry.

“Aviation helps us implement one of the most accurate methods of data collection, but it’s too expensive to use a plane or a helicopter exclusively for this purpose,” explains Mr. Baranovsky.  Pilotless aircraft and the 420 existing trail cameras are the answer, the latter taking photos in the forest through summer. In winter, they’re moved closer to animals’ feeding grounds. If animals go undisturbed, numbers tend to remain unchanged, making it easy to issue the correct number of hunting permits.

Mr. Baranovsky tells us, “In the past, when there was much snow, and a great many boar to count, we’d use watch towers spaced out near feeding grounds, which boar use during such weather. The results were extremely accurate.”

By Maria Drukova
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