January 11, 2014
European Wolf Population Boom Due To Economic Downturn?
Here in Europe the debates and controversy over the reintroduction and natural spread of Gray Wolves in the USA has been watched with interest. There has been much discussion too about the wisdom of possible reintroduction to places like Scotland where the last wolf was killed in 1684. In fact, the European wolf population was exterminated or driven out of vast areas of Europe right up to the twentieth century with only isolated groups remaining in the most remote areas.
But it seems that the wolf is making a come-back even without artificial help and that this recovery is, in many places, due to the impact of changing economic conditions for the human population. With this resurgence, however, comes the inevitable outcries from those who see the animals as a threat. The howling of a distant wolf in the night may be a wonderful sound to a nature lover but for a shepherd it is not such good news.
In the Guadarrama mountains of central Spain wolves have returned after being absent for 70 years with up to six packs present and it has recently been confirmed that they are breeding in the area. One pack is doing so a mere 40 miles from the capital Madrid. Guadarrama is a wild area and Spain’s newest National Park but it is also home to a thriving farming community and many large numbers of sheep, goats and cattle. Already the wolves are taking their toll and the bloody remnants of kills are being found more regularly with an estimated 100 animals being killed in the last 2 months in the Northern foothills alone. Local farmers have tried to defend their flocks but as in America this is not always possible. Illegal hunting of wolves may eradicate local packs but others just come in to fill the gap. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 13,000 sheep, 200 goats, and hundreds of cattle have been killed by wolves in Spain in the last 7 years and that the rate is increasing. Elsewhere in Europe wolves have spread back into former territories as far afield as Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Poland.
It has often been the case that wolf populations increase in times of political and economic upheaval as traditional controls are reduced and now many conservationists believe that the current economic recession has allowed wolves to move back into land abandoned by farmers as they have been forced to migrate from remote rural areas. In times of hardship there is less money around for control schemes and, as abandoned land allows native species to flourish, there is more prey to support the wolf packs. The boom in European wolf numbers in recent times is also related to the break-up of the former Soviet Union which resulted in a 50 per cent jump in wolf numbers as the regular state run culls were no longer carried out in the 1990’s. Many of these animals moved into Eastern Europe and beyond.
Man’s ancient ambivalent relationship with these powerful predators will no doubt continue to cause conflicts of interest but one hope is that the massive attraction wolves have for wildlife lovers will come to their rescue. Tourists are already making their way in greater numbers to the Guadarrama area just to catch a glimpse or hear the call of wild wolves. There, as elsewhere, it is hoped that this economic boost to local economies will help preserve the new packs. Once again humans and wolves are forced into an uneasy truce.
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