Wolf Hunting by James Morgan
"Wolf Hunting in Siberia" by James Morgan //
In the Siberian state of Yakutia, the exploding number of wolves is impacting indigenous livelihoods. Meet Ion Maxsimovic, the region’s best Wolf Hunter.
I’m in Nikolai Smetanin’s office, sweating in my thermal underwear. The immaculately turned out politician is talking me through a series of photographs of mangled reindeer carcasses. Outside, children are playing in an elaborate frozen playground; there’s a helter-skelter built from ice, lanes of glistening toboggan tracks and a banana boat being towed behind a snowmobile. Yakutsk is the coldest city on Earth with winter temperatures regularly the wrong side of -50°c. Understandably, there’s a paranoia to the way Siberian’s heat their homes and offices. It makes being inside unbearable.
Nikolai is the head of Yakutia’s government-run hunting department. With a landmass comparable to India, Yakutia is by far the largest non-nation state in the world. Life here, I’m quickly learning, revolves around reindeer, staying warm and diamonds. Mostly in that order. I first heard about the region in 2013 when its president, Yegor Borisov, announced a ‘state of emergency’, calling for international support and setting into motion a bounty system, which has since grown into the largest organised wolf hunt in history.
The problem, Nikolai explains, is that wolves are decimating reindeer herds. 12,000 reindeer were killed last year at a cost of 3 million euros to government caravans and indigenous cooperatives. The government can absorb these costs but across the Taiga, exploding wolf populations are pushing indigenous people into poverty and exacerbating the break down of communities. To see these effects first hand, Nikolai has arranged for me to visit Ion Maksimovic, the region’s most celebrated wolf hunter. Ion killed 23 wolves last year, more than any other hunter, winning 300,000 roubles and a snowmobile.
As they pass through this building, wolves are transformed from mythologically empowered killing machines into luxury commodities. In many ways that’s been the biggest take home for me on this trip; that the significance of this species has been split so many ways by the prism of human culture, a culture that will ultimately decide their fate. Polticians, reindeer herders, fashionistas, hunters – they all see a different side of the wolf. And as pack numbers continue to grow, the Evenki people must fight back to preserve their way of life on Yakutia’s unforgiving tundra. But one day wolves too may need preserving, the real race is to have measures in place for when the tide begins to turn.
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BIO // James Morgan
James Morgan is an award-winning film director and photographer.
His instantly recognisable visual style spans journalism, fine art, commercials and fiction. He has worked all over the world telling stories with everyone from Indonesian sea nomads through to Bolivian female wrestlers.