In Belarus, wolf-hunters lay traps at edge of Chernobyl zone

KHRAPKOVO, Belarus (Reuters) - Wolf fur grows thickest in winter, so Belarussian hunter Vladimir Krivenchik only sets his traps once snow is on the ground.

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He and his wife live on the edge of the Chernobyl exclusion zone - 2,600 square km (1,000 square miles) of land on the Belarus-Ukraine border that was contaminated by a nuclear disaster in 1986.

The zone’s resurgent wolf population poses a threat to nearby livestock, so local farms pay hunters like Krivenchik a flat fee of 150 Belarussian roubles ($80) for each wolf they kill. He sells the pelts separately.

This equates to about three-quarters of Krivenchik’s monthly salary as a watchman at a granary, but he does not like to hunt year-round.

“In the summer, I feel bad killing a wolf as their fur is so bad,” he said.

Every morning in winter, Krivenchik checks his traps and adjusts or moves them if they are empty. If a wolf is caught in the jaws of a trap, he kills it and takes it home for skinning.

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Krivenchik says no part of the animal goes to waste as the heart, leg-bones and other parts are sold for use in traditional medicine.

Wolf numbers are more than seven times higher in the Belarussian part of the Chernobyl zone than in uncontaminated areas elsewhere in the region, according to a study published in scientific journal Current Biology in 2015.

About 1,700 wolves were culled in 2016, according to official data.

Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Louise Ireland