Hunting wolves on the edge of Chernobyl

KHRAPKOVO, Belarus Feb 14 (Reuters) - Wolf fur grows thickest in winter, so Belarussian hunter Vladimir Krivenchik only sets his traps once snow is on the ground.

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.

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Hunting wolves in Chernoble
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Hunting wolves in Chernoble
Vladimir Krivenchik (L) and Nikolay Skidan, hunters, strangle a wolf which is caught in a trap near the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Nikolay Skidan, a hunter, skins a wolf in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Vladimir Krivenchik, a hunter, checks weapon in his house in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Oleg Krivenchik plays at his house in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Hunters Vladimir Krivenchik and Nikolay Skidan clean the pig after slaughtering it at their house in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Vladimir Krivenchik, a hunter, feeds the pigs at his house in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Vladimir Krivenchik and Nikolay Skidan (R), hunters, walk a pig to slaughter, at their house in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Nikolay Skidan, a hunter, holds the heart of a wolf, which locals use in folk medicine, in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Vladimir Krivenchik, a hunter, installs traps in a field to catch a wolf near the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Vladimir Krivenchik, a hunter, looks at a wolf which is caught in a trap near the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Nikolay Skidan, a hunter, releases a wolf's leg from a trap near the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Nikolay Skidan, a hunter, carries pork in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Vladimir Krivenchik, a hunter, repairs a trap for wolves in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Vladimir Krivenchik, a hunter, prepares traps for wolves in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
A wolf is caught in a trap near the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Nina Skidan, wife of a hunter Vladimir Krivenchik, holds a rabbit at her house in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
A pig's head lies on snow in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Vladimir Krivenchik (R) and Nikolay Skidan, hunters, ride a motorcycle near the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Vladimir Krivenchik (L) and Nikolay Skidan, hunters, drag a dead wolf which they caught in a trap near the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Nikolay Skidan, a hunter, carries the skin of a wolf in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
A killed wolf is seen in a bag in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Hunters cover a dead wolf after the hunt in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
Vladimir Krivenchik, a hunter, and his wife Nina Skidan are seen after hunting for a wolf near the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko 
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"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.

For a Reuters Wider Image picture essay click on: http://reut.rs/2lB5pRk

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)

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