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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Return of the wolf

It’s a controversial objective; reintroducing species to a habitat they roamed before being exterminated. Wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in January 1995 and January 1996 – 66 in all. Now, the estimate is that there are over 1,000 wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain. A similar programme has met with success in Arizona and New Mexico. A livestock compensation system is in place.

The idea of reintroducing wolves to Scotland and Wales has been mooted…

Iberian wolf
 
Here in Spain, the wolf is back from extinction without recourse to reintroduction. There are about 250 breeding groups and more than 250 individuals in Spain’s mountainous regions. There has been an increase in reports of attacks on animals, rising to almost double the 1,500 figure of 2005. Conservationists express surprise at how fast the wolves have multiplied, which seems a little odd since they’ve had the North American experience to draw upon.

Until the 1900s the Iberian wolf inhabited the majority of the Iberian Peninsula. Franco’s government started an extermination campaign during the 1950s and 1960s that wiped out the animals from all of Spain except the north-western part of the country, where there is still a fairsized population in Sierra de la Culebra.

Today, the hunting of wolves is banned in Portugal but allowed in some parts of Spain. There are reports of wolves returning to Navarre and the Basque Country and to the provinces of Extremadura, Madrid and Guadalajara. A male wolf was found recently in Catalonia, where the last native wolf was killed in 1929; however, this animal was found to be an Italian wolf (Canis lupus italicus) migrating from France! Tourists everywhere...

The Spanish wolf figures in my short story ‘Cry Wolf’ featured in Spanish Eye, 22 cases from Leon Cazador, 'in his own words'. Here is an excerpt:


Fernando Lopez was what you would call, in English, a poacher turned gamekeeper. A cunning rather than a clever man, he had been a hunter of wolves—a lobero—for many years, learning the tracking skills from his father and his father before him.

When I was fifteen, our parents brought us to stay in Spain for almost a year. “Family problems,” Mother said. And during that time, my brother Juan and I often left Pilar behind and went into the mountains to track wild animals and bring home a brace of rabbits. During one of these escapades, we stumbled upon forty-year-old Fernando who was setting a trap to catch a lone wolf. That was thirty years ago. Wolf traps are now illegal.

Fernando was taciturn but somehow we three got along. Perhaps our youthful enthusiasm and respect for his lore was appreciated. Anyway, he asked us to join him on a wolf hunt the following week. Although we knew we would have to concoct some innocuous story for our mother to cover our absence, we couldn’t miss this opportunity, so we agreed. Our friendship grew from that time on.

Thirty years ago, the wolf was regarded as a pest. “The wolf must be exterminated as its continued existence is a blemish on our standing in the civilised world,” the mayor of Fernando’s town had declared. “Spain appears to be a Third World country. We must get rid of the wolf plagues, as Britain and France have done, so we can be civilised.”

The government of the day offered bounties for dead wolves and even supplied strychnine to landowners and the peasants who worked the land. It would be interesting to find out whether the incidence of new widows and widowers increased from this period.

- Spanish Eye, p74



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4 comments:

Kathleen Janz-Anderson said...

Wild animals are mysterious and fascinating. They kill each other with no guilt or regret, and they don’t think twice about killing humans. Still I don’t believe in traps so I’m glad that’s becoming illegal. Then there’s the controversy over us moving into their territory. Is it really theirs, our those of the fittest? And the controversy goes on. As always, interesting subject, Nik.

Neil Waring said...

Everyone here in Wyoming seems to have a strong opinion one way or the other on the reintroduction of the wolf. Ranchers hate them and tourists love them. Hunters are mixed, some think they kill too many big game animals others like them because they want to hunt them. I would like to get a nice photo of one, guess that almost makes me a tourist in my own state. Nice post!

Nik said...

Thanks for the comment, Neil. Here in Spain they do tend to control the numbers of wild boar, which can be troublesome too. The consensus is that the wolves aid 'biodiversity' and affect the ecosystem in beneficial ways. They may even affect the aspen tree in Yellowstone! (See http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/in-the-valley-of-the-wolves/reintroduction-of-the-wolves/213/

Nik said...

Thanks, Kathleen. Yes, the controversy will go on, but so it seems will the spread of these magnificent dangerous creatures.