By Olga Gertcyk
9 October 2015
(Siberian Times) – The controversial demand to end a total ban on hunting Baikal's indigenous seals came from Arnold Tulokhonov, who both senator for the Republic of Buryatia in the upper house of the Russian parliament and director of the Baikal Institute of Natural Resources.
The seals need to be hunted to prevent an epidemic and to provide work for local people, he claimed. 'There was a limit set at 7,000 animals' (which could be hunted), he said. 'Now, as far as I understand, the population of seals has grown. Normally, we have about 100,000 of them but now, I think, it's more. And they have a habit of dying if they can't find food.'
Previously the overpopulation of seals led to an outbreak of distemper, he said. 'It can repeat.' His call is likely to anger animal rights groups, with a recent petition stating that humans cause more damage to Baikal than seals. It read: 'The Baikal seal is one of three freshwater seal species in the world, endemic to Baikal. Commercial production of seals cannot be allowed.'
But the senator said: 'There are locals who want to have a source of income. But they were told they can't fish, they can't hunt. What are locals supposed to do? Why are they in worse situation than everyone else? The thing is that these limits need to be calculated, approved, discussed and be grounded. We've always been shooting 7,000, and everything was okay.' [more]
30 October 2015 (Siberian Times) – A shocked local man came across the dead seals, some of them shot, a find which coincides with an angry debate on whether it is right to cull the earless mammals which are endemic to the world's oldest and deepest lake. The disturbing scenes have led to a petition to President Vladimir Putin and other government officials calling for the seals to be protected. 'They were killed, brought here and dumped. How could they kill such an animal?' asked Matvey, who sent a video of the slaughtered seals to news outlet Vesti.Irkutsk.
'Evidently, someone decided to regulate the number of seals in this way.' He demanded: 'The offender must be punished for this. This is - murder. Real murder.'
There are currently strict laws banning the hunting of Baikal seals, but fishermen claiming the rising population is detrimental to fish stocks in a lake larger in size than Belgium. A scientist and senator in the Russian parliament has called for some 7,000 seals to be hunted each year in a cull to control the population, in part to boost the local fishing industry.
Police went to the scene and found evidence of the unofficial cull, which took place a week previously. They opened an investigation. Animals rights investigators say the butchery in these pictures is not unique and that up to 15,000 seals are illegally killed annually.
'The Baikal seal is the only mammal that lives in the waters of Lake Baikal. This cute animal inhabits almost the entire area of the lake and eats fish,' states the petition. 'The main seal rookery located on Ushkaniye Islands - there is plentiful food, comfortable stones to relax on, and most important - there are almost no people. The seals' natural enemies are poachers.' [more]