OSLO, Norway, April 21 (UPI) -- Norway on Tuesday handed down prison sentences to five men accused of hunting wolves last year, the first such case to be prosecuted in the Scandinavian country, where wolf populations are drastically low.
The case at the South Oesterdal District Court in eastern Norway ended with the main defendant receiving a one-year, eight-month sentence, while four others were given sentences between six months and a year, as well as hunting bans of various lengths. A sixth defendant was not charged.
The men were accused of laying wolf traps but denied the charges. Four have appealed.
The court held that Dennis Nordahl, 48, had organized the illegal hunt, which took place in February 2014. The court also accused Nordahl of killing a wolf last year in another incident, but he claimed he had intended to kill a fox.
"This is disturbing, especially considering that we have the smallest wolf population in Europe," Petter Wabakken, an internationally acclaimed expert on wolves, told the Guardian.
Since the 1970s, the Norwegian gray wolf has been fully protected by law without exceptions, but the animals are sometimes killed illegally for attacking livestock, one of their main sources of food. Poachers are their number one threat.
According to the International Wolf Center, Norway shares a wolf population with Sweden. Of the estimated 380 wolves in both counties, 10 percent -- or 38 -- live in Norway.