by Astrid Szelest
The return of the wolves
Baden Wuerttemberg is expecting the wolves. After over 160 years the wolf slowly returns on quiet paws. That's what the Department of Environment announced this spring in a press release. In the widths of Russia, wolves have their space to live. Astrid und Rüdiger Szelest have been involved with a Russian wolf project for several years. During information evenings and exhibitions they inform about wolves, collect donations and they co-initiated a program for eco-volunteers in Russia. Using donations from Welzheim, Schorndorf and Backnang and with the help of volunteers, a centre for environmental education and information on wolves is being built. Together with Thomas Bleile and Gisela Müller they visited the southwestern taiga. This is their report:
Even from a long distance, you can hear laughter in the middle of the Russian wilderness. Sybille sits in the sun and carves a door handle, while Fernand works on a window with sandpaper. The two belong to a group of eco-volunteers who build a wolf information centre out of an old school. The school is only a few kilometres away from the biological research station Christy Less in the village of Chistoe, around 450 kilometres north-west of Moscow. On the outside it is in a relatively good condition, but inside there is still a lot to be done. Daniel from England supervises the project voluntarily from the beginning of June to Mid-August. At home, he works for the environmental protection agency and he has a lot experience in construction.
Laetitia Becker and her organisation Lupus Laetus arranged the ecovolunteer programm
During the last months we collected money donations for the information centre. We were able to hand over 3000 Euros to Russian wolf researcher Vladimir Bologoy and Leatitia Becker. The "Gesellschaft zum Schutz der Wölfe e.V."(Society for the protection of wolves), of which we are members, supports this lasting project. More than 20 voluntary helpers, some of which from the administrative district Rems-Murr in Germany, will be active in Russia until the middle of August.
Vladimir Bologov and Daniel from England
The volunteers are acommodated in tents. Due to some rainstorms and nightly moskito attacks, they decided to pitch them inside the old school building. The building had not been used for decades and the windows are damaged. And ideal place for swallows to build nests. Until the young birds learn to fly, one window will remain open. In one room there is a makeshift table with benches, an electric kettle and a hotplate. Electric power supply is unreliable and power outages that last several days are not unheard of. No running water. Water supply is carried out manually with two buckets at a well. For washing oneself, there is a lake. With the temperatures in early summer, Kneippism is included. The old latrine booth is reactivated as well. It doesn't take long and the helpers are integrated in the village life of Chistoe and are allowed to use the bath house on Saturdays. Similar to a sauna, the russian banja is heated with wood to a temperature of around 100 degrees centigrade. Big bowls serve as a shower. In the evening, the volunteers meet the supervisors and the locals at a camp fire. They tell stories, play games and laugh until the morning hours.
Saturday evening BBQ
Surely this kind of vacation is not everyone's cup of tea. Hélène is sad as she is about to return to France after two weeks. Working in a team for a good cause, the silence and untouched nature, all those things fascinated her. As she looks at the lake, she says,"I will return - soon."
Volunteers Hélène. Sybille, Candice
Vladimir Bologov is grateful for the international support. He studies the behaviour of wolves for more than 30 years and advocates their protection. Even though the wolf population in Russia declines more and more, the animals are being hunted throughout the year. His wolf project is a research site of the University of Moscow. We meet Andrey Poyarkov. The professor and his students are active in the project several months each year. For the international congress for wild biology, the researchers are recording the howls of the wolves. Unfortunately we didn't hear anything during our time in the fields close to the wolfpacks. But recent footprints showed us that the animals were very close. According to Poyarkov, education and information are important aspects in the co-existence of wolf and man.
The centre for environmental education is supposed to be a place to meet and communicate. Vladimir Bologov and Laetitia Becker expect around 300 visitors each month. Besides school classes, students and scientists, interested people should have the opportunity to get information on wolves throughout the year. With the collected donations, the first stage of construction can be completed. Further donations are needed for the interior and the area around the centre.
Besides the work at the information centre we helped Bologov to fix the fences of the enclosures. He buys pups from hunters and zoos, raises them in enclosures with as little human contact as possible, monitors their behaviour and releases them into the wild. Cameras are installed in the enclosures. Films about Vladimir Bologov's wolves are frequently shown on Russian TV and on the internet. For the researcher, this is a modern form of environmental education. An oppurtunity to inform about these fascinating animals.
Early summer has reached the taiga. Hot, humid days, heavy rain showers, thunderstorms and coldsnaps. Time and again we are impressed by the variety of the pristine meadows and forests. During the midsummer nights it doesn't get really dark, the sky changes its colour to dark violet with an orange stripe on the horizon. The concert of the nightingales, cuckoos and owls is impressive. A young bear roams the area around the research station. We have to take our shoes into the house each evening, because he seems to specifically enjoy the flavour of those. Why people run through the forest in the early morning without being hunted will remain a mystery for him. On sight, he escaped quickly into the bushes.
Thomas Bleile, Astrid and Rüdiger Szelest, Gisela Müller, Daniel from England, Vladimir Bologov