Wolves once roamed the entire Iberian peninsula. But in the mid-1900s the Spanish government wiped out all the wolves except for those in the country’s northwestern corner.
Spain may have the largest wolf population in Western Europe—about 1500 animals—according to Pedro Alcantara and Marcela Plana, writing in the report, «The Wolf in Spain.» But Spain’s wolves are in serious trouble. The report lists many problems. Most sound similar to those faced by wolves in the United States. where I live.
There is growing human pressure on wolf habitat which is shrinking due to natural and human-caused fires. Highways and railways make wolf travel dangerous.
There are rancher-wolf conflicts. Alcantra and Plana write that a cause of this may be, «The ignorance and superstition—hard words but not less true—of the agrarian population that both suffer wolf attacks on their livestock and fear the figure of the wolf…” They write that ranchers are not compensated for wolf-caused losses, and this leads to poaching, poisoning, and setting habitat-destroying fires.
The Iberian wolf is legally hunted. In parts of Spain, trophy hunters bid in an auction—often more than the equivalent of $6,000—for the right to kill one wolf. Alcantara and Plana state that the money raised does not go to positive uses such as compensating ranchers.
The report says poaching is also a problem: 80% of the wolves that die each year are killed by poachers. No poachers have ever been fined.
Alcantara and Plana contrast the situation in Spain with that of Portugal where about 10% of the peninsula’s wolves live and are protected. When those wolves trot over the border into Spain, they are killed by hunters. This is similar to what happens when wolves leave the protection of Yellowstone National Park and cross into Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming.
There are efforts to protect Iberian wolves. In 2013 Lobo Marley gathered 198,000 signatures on a petition calling for the wolf’s protection. Lobo Marley states on its website that they see no justification for wolf killing. They are not opposed to the livestock industry, and they understand that traditional livestock practices are in danger of extinction too. They acknowledge “occasional predation on livestock.” They will support ranchers that coexist with wolves and oppose those that don’t.
Lobo Marley also wants to show that the presence of the Iberian wolf can benefit rural economies. They are working on promoting a “Lobo Marley” brand to help sell products produced by farmers who coexist with wolves. This is similar to the “Predator Friendly” brand that is trying to gain a foothold in the U.S.
Lobo Marley raised money and participated in the last auction for the right to hunt wolves. They bought two wolves and—in a controversial move—instead of hunting them will save them. They want to prove that a live wolf is worth more than a dead one.
Hunt is the wrong word to describe what happens to wolves won at the auction. My Lobo Marley contact (an international representative who asked to remain anonymous) said that the winners of the auction go to a small blind on a hunting reserve. For weeks or months before hunting season, wolves are baited to the site with slaughter house waste. The wolves grow accustomed to feeding near the blind and when the “hunters” arrive, they have a short, easy shot. He sent me a photo of the blind and a dead wolf with chicken feet surrounding its head. (I emailed the auction organizers for their comment, but they have not replied.)
Once Lobo Marley announced their intention to enter the auction, complaints flew. According to an English translation of a Lobo Marley document that I received from that organization, hunters warned auction officials that they would not participate if Lobo Marley could bid. Auction officials worried about lost revenue with fewer bidders. Cattle ranchers complained that if an advocacy group wins wolves and keeps them alive, wolf attacks on their cattle would increase. Other groups called Lobo Marley’s tactic illegal.
Regardless of the complaints, if Lobo Marley was to bid, they would need lots of cash. They succeeded—by crowdfunding through social networks—in raising almost $14,000. Luis Miguel Dominguez, president of Lobo Marley, said at a press conference that the money came from thousands of citizens. He added, “The Iberian wolf is not a hunting trophy” and “The animal, which is a symbol of wild Nature, cannot be sold like waste.”
Lobo Marley entered the auction for the right to hunt six wolves in the regional hunting reserve of Sierra de la Culebra, where they estimate less than 100 wolves survive. Their representative told me that they wanted to save as many of the six as possible, but only won the bid for two because, “The auction system online was clearly biased and there were two other wolves already assigned to someone.” Lobo Marley paid the equivalent of $6,124 and $5,376.
With the auction over, Lobo Marley now moves to the next step: To “…begin negotiations with the Regional Authorities from Zamora to keep all six wolves alive and stop this cruel and senseless hunting forever.” Regardless of whether they succeed in that goal, Lobo Marley intends to equip each of their two wolves with a special camera “…so that society can effectively understand… the wolf’s reality…”
Lobo Marley’s long term goal is have the Iberian wolf protected all over Spain, as it is in neighboring Portugal.
To learn more about human-wolf conflict and the deep roots of wolf hatred, check out my bestselling book, In the Temple of Wolves, on Amazon in Spain at http://amzn.to/1nmqidm or in Amazon in the U.S. at http://amzn.to/Jpea9Q
Photo of three Iberian wolves by Juan Jose Gonzalez Vega
Photo of Iberian wolf on hillside from Lobo Marley Web
Photo of Iberian wolf in forest by Ricardo-Peralta