Thursday 3 January 2013

Knowledge is to know when you don't know

The last day of 2012 came with a surpise. A young walrus had turned up in the small town of Kristiansund, not far from where I grew up. Despite my ten years of experience in the Arctic, where I have amongst other things worked with guiding film crews and photographers to awesome walrus experiences, I found much joy in knowing that one was seen not far from where I was born. Well out of its normal range. I changed my plans for new years eve celebration, so that I would be ready early next morning for the 2.5hrs drive to Kristiansund to hopefully get to see this animal myself.

Despite that pictures on the internet, as well as friends’ description of the behaviour did not give any signs of weakness or sickness in this animal, I was unfortunately not very surprised when I got the message only a few hours later that local wildlife authorities had decided to kill the walrus. It had been shot dead, and then towed out to sea to get rid of the carcass. The decision was based on a number of reasons that all led to the conclusion of a very sick and injured animal according to the wildlife authority and the Food Safety Authority. Despite their suspision of sickness, they did not bother to take any blood or tissue samples of the animal before they let the walrus sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Some of the criteria used in their assessment were that this animal had red eyes, broken one of its tusks, reddish/pinkish skin, it did let people get fairly close to it, a small wound in one of the flippers and the fact that it had turned up about 1500km south of its normal distribution. All clear signs of sickness and incapability to recover according to the authoroties in charge. Of course, there were not given any concerns amongst either the local wildlife authority nor the Food Safety authority to the fact that they had absolutely no experience with the natural behaviour of walrus. This was ignored completely, and it was so important to kill this animal so quickly that they did not even take their time for a google search. Something which had taken shorter time than loading the rifle. If they hadn’t been in such a hurry to kill the poor animal, their google search would have shown them thousands of pictures of healthy walruses looking exactly the same as the one laying on the jetty in front of them. It was considered a waste of time to call anyone with walrus experience. For those of you that dont know much about the walrus, I can assure you that the whole list of ”signs of weakness” mentioned above is acutally characteristica of the walrus as a species and very typical for healthy walruses. In other words, completely normal.

Red eyes is a common trait of walrus - this one is photographed in Svalbard.

The walrus is a protected species in Norway, and on the Red list (list over threatened and endangered species) which ideally should have made the respective authorities take extra care in such a case and make sure they were doing the right thing. Even so, I think it is only in Norway this way of wildlife managing can happen. Unfortunately, they showed the same ignorance and arrogance of other expertise that they show on a regular basis when it comes to assessing wild animal health issues in many other cases. Compared to the job they are set to do, it is almost unbelievable the lack of knowledge they posess as well as the complete lack of will to cooperate with other expertise such as behaviour biolgists in some cases. It is an arrogance towards wildlife and other people that is unparallel.

It has been a repeating event, and so many animals have been killed without reason in this country. This incident is now getting a whole lot of media coverage thanks to dedicated people working independent of each others, and reacting of this way to govern our nature. We have also gone to the police, so that they are forced to looked at it in a more formal way.

I have mentioned it before in this blog. Norwegians are seeing themselves as a people of nature. The truth is very different and the sad fact is that we have removed ourselves so far away from nature that we have entered a sort of paranoid state, where all animals that are behaving a little bit away from the normal are considered dangerous or sick. At the same time, Norway is almost a century behind the rest of the world when it comes to nature conservation and wildlife mangement, where our goverment still thinks that the only way to manage nature is through shooting and killing. It is really sad, but I do hope that the media attention this walrus have gotten can give way to a change in how our wildlife authorities are handling these sort of cases in the future. Their arrogance have to stop.

Pink skin and reddish mouth - also completely normal in walrus as shown
 in this Svalbard native. 



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