How Farmers In Spain and Portugal Are Learning To Live With Wolves

Iberian wolves were at risk of extinction in Spain just 50 years ago.

Now, Spain has “the highest [Iberian wolf] concentration on the continent”, and next-door Portugal is working on wolf conservation, as well.

What changed?

Like most drastic changes, it was a combination of things:

  • Updated laws. Over time, Spanish law evolved from allowing Iberian wolves to be hunted anytime and anywhere, to putting restrictions on hunting, to the fairly recent prohibition of wolf hunting in 2021.
  • Support for local farmers and shepherds, ****who are most likely to be affected by the reintroduction of wolves.
  • Shepherds learned how to protect their livestock without harming the wolves. Shepherds can almost completely prevent attacks that cause dead or injured livestock:
    • 61% prevention with use of Mastiffs (a large, protective dog breed) to guard livestock
    • 99.9% prevention with use of electric fences
    • 100% prevention with use of fixed enclosures

Reintegration can be tricky

For many shepherds, the change to prevention-only methods for guarding livestock did not come easily—they remember days when their flocks were decimated by wolf attacks.

But as shepherds have gained knowledge and experience, and have seen new methods working, they’ve overcome past fears and learned how to live alongside the wolves in a way that supports everyone: shepherds, flocks, and wolves alike.

The takeaway

Sometimes, sharing knowledge is the key to allowing us to live with natural systems rather than exterminating the parts that seem hard to manage—especially when tradition or past experience makes the latter look like the only option.

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