Wolves are recovering faster in Spain than in other European countries, but the species is still in danger
Wolves have been a constant in human history. Although the version of Charles Perrault’s story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf that you know comes from 17th-century France, the story has much older roots and diverse cultural variations. The wolf is interpreted as a symbol of dangers in the world, but unfortunately it perpetuates a negative image of wolves, which in real life are very noble animals and are very necessary in ecosystems.
In prehistoric times, wolves were much more common and widespread than they are today. In fact, the wolf was one of the most widespread large mammals, distributed across almost the entire European continent. Over the millennia, human settlement, expansion of agriculture and ranching, deforestation and hunting impacted wolf populations.
But humans not only displaced wolves, they also domesticated them. The domestication of wolves into dogs is a complex process that is thought to have begun between 40,000 and 15,000 years ago. The general consensus is that the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) descended from the wolf (Canis lupus) through a gradual process of domestication.
Wolves approached human settlements in search of food. More docile and less aggressive wolves would have had a selective advantage in this environment, allowing them to get closer to humans and share food without conflict. Over time, people began to specifically breed wolves for certain characteristics, such as docility, the ability to protect themselves, hunt, or even physical characteristics such as size or fur color. This artificial selection led to a diversification of traits and ultimately to the hundreds of dog breeds we have today. Yes, the ancestors of the poodle, dachshund, and Chihuahua were also wolves at some point in history.
Why do we need wolves?
Wolves are a species that have faced numerous threats throughout history in Europe, including habitat loss and overhunting. However, Spain is one of the countries with the largest wolf population in Western Europe. Most wolves are found in the northwest of the country, in regions such as Asturias, Castile and León and Galicia.
The return of the wolf is the subject of debate in several countries, particularly with regard to its impact on animal husbandry and ecological balance. While conservation groups consider wolf recovery a success, ranchers and some rural communities often raise concerns about livestock predation.
In Spain, the wolf can no longer be hunted as a trophy thanks to the list of species under special protection. According to WWF, the wolf is primarily a hunter of deer, roe deer or wild boar. If these animals are rare or they find unprotected herds in their territory, wolves can attack livestock. However, due to its small number of individuals, the wolf is responsible for less than 1% of dead animals in livestock farming, as most losses are due to weather or disease.
Wolves are hunters and scavengers and, together with vultures, are responsible for cleaning up nature. They also eliminate deer and wild boars suffering from tuberculosis, thus combating this dangerous disease that mainly affects cows and causes losses to livestock farmers running into the millions.
The same applies to pigs, as the wolf is also the only animal capable of keeping wild boar populations, which can transmit African swine fever, in check. By controlling the population of deer and other wild ungulates, wolves prevent the shortage of pasture for livestock. They also drive wild dogs out of their territory, which cause serious damage to livestock.
Where are there wolves in Spain?
In Spain, the largest wolf populations are found in the northwest, particularly in the autonomous communities of Castile and León, Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria. There are also smaller, more isolated populations in other areas, such as the Sierra Morena in Andalusia.
According to the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, in 2019 there were estimated to be around 2,000 to 2,500 wolves across the country. However, these numbers can fluctuate due to various factors such as hunting, illegal poisoning and conservation measures.
If we want to observe wolves in their habitat, there are organizations and companies that offer guided trips to observe wolves in their natural environment, especially in areas such as the Sierra de la Culebra in Zamora or Antequera In Malaga. To be able to observe the wolves from a safe distance, binoculars or telescopes are essential.
The best time to spot wolves varies by region, but in general it is easier to spot them during the winter months when vegetation is less dense. Wolves are most active at dawn and dusk and are therefore most visible at this time.
Although the situation is complex and varies by region and country, the threat to this species remains across Europe. It’s time to leave the stories behind and ensure that wolves can live peacefully in the wild.
Quo Science Trips section sponsored by Hyundai