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24.01.2021
Photo: Alina KOMAROVA

With the commencement of hostilities in Ukraine in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, hunting was banned. This ban lasted for six years – until the fall of 2020. During this time, meadows, steppes, water rights began to inhabit animals. Such a philosophical paradox: the demarcation line, being the death line for humans, has become for animals a lifeline 40 kilometers wide.

Oleksii Burkovskyi, an environmental activist from Donetsk region, wonders why scientists are still not interested in such a clean, albeit forced experiment that Ukraine has never known before. After all, six years without hunting definitely affected the fauna of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Photo: Serhii LAPCHYNSKYI

The activist claims that he does not apply for scientific research and can be subjective. However, Oleksii has been observing the upper reaches of the Kazennyi Torets River for more than 30 years and considers any changes in animal populations to be obvious.

According to him, a year before the war, the fauna of Donetsk region was depleted, the extermination of fauna was a matter of time. This is not surprising, because the anthropogenic impact in this region is huge, there is little natural land, and the density of the population, and hunters as well, was high.

In 2014, the situation changed radically. While the fighting operated on the immense area and changing its place of spreading, the animals have migrated to peaceful areas, so at that time it is extremely difficult to trace changes in populations. In the spring of 2015, the line of contact stabilized, and all subsequent changes were already related to the ban on hunting in most of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The level of poaching was almost zero: the opportunity to get a bullet from the bushes with a military machine gun quickly “cured” those willing from such risky entertainment.

– If in 2013 it was rare to meet even a wild duck – a mallard, then in 2015 instead of single ducks small flocks began to appear, then big flocks. Once in 2018, I scared a flock of mallards more than 70 individuals! – Oleksii Burkovskyi says. – Species that almost disappeared in this area 10-15 years ago, such as teal, have begun to recover. You can also find a gray goose; the roody shelduck listed in the Red Book of Ukraine began to appear. There is no need to talk about the pheasant at all – it is now found in rural gardens and streets. It is so amazing when you walk away from your own house for literally 200-300 meters and you can come across a Red Book kite, a blue hawk or Montagu’s harrier, which you could not see for years. As for such species as kestrel, marsh harrier, buzzard, there is no question at all – you see them all the time.

The changes also affected mammals. The population of hares and roe deer (European roe deer) has grown significantly. The population of wild boars began to grow, otters appeared, and the fox population increased. The geography of bobac marmot spreading is growing.

Photo: Oleksii BURKOVSKYI

Oleksii Busiienko, a director of the communal enterprise of hunting and fishing in Oleksandrivskyi district, deputy head of the Donetsk regional organization of the Ukrainian Society of Hunters and Fishermen, confirms that the population of bobac marmot in this district has increased fivefold during the war.

– Until 2010, this animal was almost not observed at all. And now we see large colonies of these rodents in places where they did not exist before.

According to Busiienko, we can confidently say about the increase in the territory of Donetsk pheasants and hares. But wild boars have significantly decreased (in Olexandrivskyi district – from 100 to 20), due to African swine fever. The number of ducks and geese has also decreased, because over the last two or three years, due to the abnormal heat, the reservoirs have dried up in the summer – out of 40 in the area, 15 remain.

The expert assures that there are still no mass cases of poaching. Being a poacher is an expensive pleasure, because the fines are huge (you have to pay UAH 30.000 for a killed roe deer). The hunting service, the police, the state security service do their job well.

Oleksii Busiienko also told about the sanitary shooting, as he receives daily complaints from the residents of the district about fox attacks on livestock and poultry:

– Despite the hunting ban, we had to shoot predators with a special permit. However, this is no longer the scale that was before the war. Then we killed three times more predators. It is necessary to understand also such a moment – the more predators, the less all others.

And what about Luhansk region? We addressed Vadym Moroz, a director of the Luhansk Nature Reserve of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

Photo: Oleksii BURKOVSKYI

– Yes, indeed, in recent years the number of ratites, wild boar, roe deer, pheasants, foxes, hares has increased, – Mr.Vadym said. – More wild boars were bred near Stanytsia Luhanska as well. There is an area where people do not go now, because it is mined, so almost a protected area was created there. Both on the territory of the reserve and nearby, the birds listed in the Red Book of Ukraine are nesting actively: white-tailed eagle, booted eagle, black kite.

The director of the Luhansk Nature Reserve also explained that, in addition to hunting banning, it can have a positive effect on the reproduction of wild animals and birds:

– We have had warmer and milder winters the last few years, and this is a very favorable condition. Farmers use less chemicals to cultivate the fields, because “chemistry” is very expensive, they just sometimes cannot afford it. Sometimes the areas border the front line, so they are simply abandoned. In Stanychno-Luhansk district lakes were replenished with water, which had a very positive effect on the population of wetland birds. The reason is the closure of wells from which water was pumped to Luhansk before the war.

But the number of bobac marmot in Luhansk region, according to Vadym Moroz, is declining. There is an overgrowth of the steppe, and for this species, it is unacceptable. Small grazing is required, but the number of farmers in agriculture is only declining. Within the reserve, of course, the necessary means are used to preserve the population of bobac marmot.

According to Oleksii Burkovskyi, a generation of animals and birds has grown up in the East in six years who do not know hunters and are therefore not afraid of people. This makes “photo hunting” possible and easier, but it also contains threats: the presence of natural instincts is the key to the survival of fauna.

Dmytro LESHCHUK and Yuliia CHEBRETS/Gromada Skhid №1 (34) 2021