By Shakeh Avoyan
The annual hunting season opened in Armenia at the weekend with a government permission to shoot a limited number of some wildlife birds.
Some 25,000 members of the Armenian Hunting Association will be allowed to hunt for up to 20,000 quails and 7,000 wild blue pigeons for the time being. The quotas were set by the ministry of environment which is responsible for protecting and preserving wildlife in Armenia.
The official permission will be extended to ducks and partridges starting from October 5 and to hares and foxes from November.
Wolves are the only species whose killing is allowed and even encouraged at any time of the year. The authorities say they have substantially grown in numbers in recent years and increasingly prey on the village livestock across the country.
"It is desirable that the villagers eliminate the wolves by any possible means because those predators are causing a very big damage to agriculture," the environment ministry's chief wildlife inspector, Armen Arabian, told RFE/RL on Wednesday.
By contrast, hunting for black bears and other endangered species such as snow leopards will continue to be strictly banned despite occasional reports of these animals descending on villages from nearby mountains in search of food. Under Armenian law individuals found to have killed them for any purpose other than self-defense are to face heavy fines and even criminal prosecution.
The ban is widely believed to be violated by poachers roaming the country's mountain forests in pursuit of entertainment. Arabian denied rumors that among them are senior government officials, saying that they only engage in legal forms of hunting.
"Many of our leaders, including the president of the republic, the ministers of defense, interior and agriculture, are keen hunters," he said. "All of them enjoy hunting."
"President Robert Kocharian, for example, likes hunting for partridges most of all. And that's not an easy exercise. It requires a lot of physical power and endurance," Arabian added.
He also said that, according to the environment ministry, only a fraction of the officially registered hunters go out shooting the animals every year.