How Wildlife Tourism emerged
At the end of the 1970s, professional wildlife photographer Lassi Rautiainen pioneered the putting out of food (bait) for bears in Finland in order to photograph them - without bait it is impossible to observe wild bears, wolverines and wolves in Finland or in any other area where animals are hunted and thus extremely shy.
Wildlife tourism emerged in the 1980s when Lassi went to Sweden and Norway to talk about his kind of photography. Increasing numbers of photographer colleagues wished to join him in taking pictures of bears in Finland. Since 1991, photographers from various countries have been coming to Lassi’s photo hides in Kuhmo. While Lassi started his bear photography in his home area of Suomussalmi, north of Kuhmo, today Wildlife Safaris Finland Oy operates mainly in Kuhmo (summer and winter) and Kuusamo (winter). The company arranges trips abroad as well.
Nature conservation value of wildlife tourism close to Lassi Rautiainen’s heart
Lassi’s aim is to impart, through wildlife photography and observation, a general understanding of Finnish wildlife and the Finnish wilds, and of wolves and bears in particular, but also of “finnishness” per se. Moreover, it is a proven fact that the presence of wildlife tourism and wildlife photography in Kuhmo helps deter poachers from clandestine killing, while also bringing greater acceptance of wildlife among the local people.
Our Animals and the Setting of Wildlife Safaris Finland
Our bears, wolves and wolverines spend most of their time in Russia. The majority of our photo hides are located only a few hundred metres away from the Russian border, in a 1-3 kilometre wide military zone called ‘No man’s land’, a relic from the times of the Cold War. This border zone is a perfect area for wildlife photography since people require a permit to access it. Consequently, there is no-one to disturb our photographic adventures and chase away our animals.
About feeding and photographing predators
Permits are needed for feeding predators. Lassi has striven to make it continually possible to arrange wildlife watching and photography in the EU countries (Finland joined the EU in 1995). He has worked intensively for many years with the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture. Finally, in April 2009, the EU commission agreed that member states can decide for themselves about the use of farm animal carcasses in the wilds. Following this, in the summer of 2009 Finland became the first EU country to enact its own law respecting putting out carrion for wild animals. For a long time the hunting of raccoon dogs and foxes at carrion has been permitted.
An old Finnish tradition was to kill bears using animal carcasses. When a bear killed a cow, a sheep or even a horse, local men would build a wooden platform in a nearby tree. There a hunter would sit and wait in the dark for the bear’s return. When a bear was shot, the hunter was regarded as a local celebrity and his jubilant village celebrated by organizing a traditional event called peijaiset. However, using carrion in order to shoot bears has been prohibited for a long time under the Finnish hunting laws. Unfortunately, there are still hunters who illegally put out carcases to attract bears in order to shoot them.
On the other hand, farm animal carcasses are sometimes used to help save a species. In the 1960s, environmental toxins seriously threatened the future of white-tailed eagles in Finland. The WWF and a host of other wildlife organisations and nature lovers worked hard for over 30 years on the islands of the Baltic Sea to save the eagles, which appreciate dead pig meat. Their concerted action was so successful that the WWF stopped feeding the eagles in 2000. Yet, even today many birdwatchers privately feed eagles for observation or photography, and especially with the aim of assisting these lovely birds to survive.
Wildlife watching and photography - one of the EU’s top ten nature products
In 2008, this product even received an EU award, while Finnish travel journalists also selected "wildlife watching and photographing" for the award of the best nature travel product of 2009. Every year many thousands of nature lovers travel to Finland to see and photograph wildlife. Wildlife Safaris Finland is no longer alone in organizing wildlife watching and photography. From northern Karelia up as far as Kuusamo there are around a score of family enterprises now following in pioneer Lassi Rautiainen’s footsteps.