The carcasses of two lynxes recovered by police during an investigation into the illegal killing of several large predators in Northern Savonia in 2019–2023. The investigation indicates that the illegal hunting was clearly organised, with each participant assigned a specific role and responsibility to guarantee a catch. (Handout / Eastern Finland Police Department)

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OFFICERS at Eastern Finland Police Department on Tuesday revealed they have completed a pre-trial investigation into a series of hunting offences that took place in Lapinlahti, Northern Savonia, in 2019–2023.

The 34 suspects – 30–70-year-old men who are primarily from the region – are suspected of killing at least three wolves, six lynxes and one wolverine over dozens of poaching incidents, including a wolf tracked by Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke).

They are also believed to have inflicted deadly wounds to other predators and killed a number of birds protected under the nature conservation act, such as hawks, swans, a raven, a great bittern and a barnacle goose.

The men are suspected of aggravated hunting offences, an offence that carries the maximum penalty of four years in prison. The first arrests in the case were made in late March 2023.

Harri-Pekka Pohjolainen, a detective chief inspector at Eastern Finland Police Department, told Helsingin Sanomat in February that the case is the largest poaching case in the history of Finland. The pre-trial investigation indicates that the poaching was clearly organised, with each participant assigned his own role and responsibilities to guarantee a catch.

The group hunted the predators under the pretext of permits granted for hunting foxes and lynxes.

Police recovered a number of predator carcasses, skins and skulls from the group, including some the origin of which could not be ascertained. The men are therefore also suspected of concealment of illegal quarry or catch.

Some of the suspects revealed in interrogations that they were motivated by the thrill of hunting and the low risk of getting caught. Some also expressed their frustration with what they viewed was an insufficient number of hunting permits granted for population management and dissatisfaction with the prevalent policy on large predators.

Luke’s operations, for example, were perceived as being politically biased and left the hunters no choice but to take the law into their own hands.

At least some protected birds were killed in the spur of the moment, without any rational reason.

The nearly 1,000 pages of documentation produced during the pre-trial investigation will next be submitted to a prosecutor for consideration of charges. Although aggravated hunting offence carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison, thus far no one has been imprisoned for the crime in Finland.

The repercussions may also include the revocation of firearm licences and imposition of hunting bans. The financial repercussions may also be significant, the compensation for a wolf being up to 9,100 euros and a wolverine up to 16,500 euros.

Eastern Finland Police Department on Tuesday pointed out that illegal hunting is relatively commonplace in Finland. The illegal hunting of large predators is a problem particularly in Eastern Finland, Kainuu and Lapland.

It added that tackling illegal hunting is complicated due to the fact that such areas are sparsely populated with no or little monitoring.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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