Sunday, January 4, 2015

Iberian Wolves Causing Havoc to Spanish Farmers

Farmer Jacinto Serranos with a calf killed by either a wolf or a feral dog

The Iberian wolf, which is protected in Spain, has moved southwards from the country's northwestern corner in recent years and threatening farmers through livestock predation. One of the unfortunate farmers suffering from such losses is Jacinto Serranos, who lives near the small village of Mengamunoz in the province of Avila. Mr. Serranos tried using a wide range of deterrents such as leaving a transistor radio on at full volume next to his cattle at night and installing a flickering police siren in the field. However, the wolves continue to arrive generally targeting the smallest or weakest animals in a herd. In the past few years, Mr. Serranos lost eight cows which constituted up to 10 percent of his livestock and indicated that other farmers living nearby have experienced livestock predation by wolves. For example, one farmer lost a calf to the wolves a few days after the attack on Mr. Serranos' livestock. The psychological impact of predation by wolves has also led to another dilemma and that is it caused several of Mr. Serranos' heifers to experience miscarriages.
Iberian wolf

A local farmer's association indicated that Castile and Leon saw over 2,000 domestic animals killed by wolves this year with a quarter of those in the Avila area. Figures compiled by the region's government revealed that more than 20,000 calves, foals, goats, and sheep have been either killed or wounded by wolves over the past ten years with the flow increasing considerably in 2008. According to wolf expert Juan Carlos Blanco, the animals have bolstered their numbers and are frequenting areas occupied by farmers especially in Avila. He further added that farming methods were used to the wolves several decades ago with more enclosures and livestock guardian dogs. However, he also pointed out that a political confusion is related to the issue. That is, in 2013, the chief political parties in Avila disproved of a regulation granting wolves protection from hunting in all areas south of the Douro River by supporting a proposal to make the province "wolf free". In the meantime, the government of Spain is pressing the European Commission to lower the wolves' protection so that they can be hunted. Conservationists fear that the political attitude is turning against the wolves. One of them is Luis Suarez, who oversees the biodiversity program of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Spain. He accepts that even though some farmers suffer from repeated attacks on their livestock by wolves, it is not a large-scale problem for the agricultural part as a whole. He further added that wolves have been used as scapegoats for other matters affecting Spain's major farming industry, such as decreasing subsidies and red tape. As the attacks implemented by wolves have soared in recent times, so have the incidences of animals being poisoned in retaliation with over 130 wolves killed in the past ten years. Mr. Suarez stated that the actual number could be hire and pointed to farmers as apparent suspects. Both Mr. Suarez and Dr. Blanco think that the solution to the threat of wolves lies in farmers changing their techniques of keeping livestock. Although they admit that this solution costs money as does granting farmers more sufficient compensation in the aftermath of attacks, the relationship between people and wolves is difficult.
A Maremma sheepdog guarding a flock of sheep. Livestock guardian dogs are an effective, yet non-violent way of reducing livestock losses from predators like wolves. 

It is extremely disturbing to see how the farmers' livestock are being lost to wolves. These incidents of livestock predation has been affecting the farmers' livelihood. However, Iberian wolves are not only subject to retaliatory killings by farmers but are also threatened by the Spanish government which is currently requesting the European Commission to strip the wolves of their protection status so that they can be hunted. This method would not help since wolves are keystone species that play a major role in maintaining the ecological balance of their native habitat. If these animals disappear, the herbivore population in Spain would increase dramatically and this would lead to further problems for the country's farmers. One of the wolf's prey, the wild boar, is infamous for causing destruction on agricultural land and the wolf is credited for keeping Spain's wild boar population in check. So if the Iberian wolf disappears from Spain, then the wild boar population would explode reaching agricultural land and posing serious threat to farmers and their livestock. Instead of turning against the wolf, the Spanish government should turn to helping farmers coexist peacefully with wolves. This can be done by setting up stronger barriers around farmlands, providing livestock guardian dogs to keep wolves away, encouraging farmers to change their methods of keeping livestock, and granting them more sufficient compensation in the wake of any attack. Three years ago, the government of Catalonia developed a plan to reduce livestock predation from wolves by providing farmers with livestock guardian dogs. The government of Spain should implement similar tactics without having to simply killing wolves. As part of the efforts in dealing with the ongoing problem between wolves and farmers, Spain should also look into its feral dog population. Apart from wolves, Spain has a larger issue of feral dogs preying on livestock. However, most farmers would not acknowledge this because Spain, like most countries, would not compensate livestock losses to feral dogs. This could explain why whenever there is a loss of livestock, the blame is immediately put on wolves and not feral dogs due to the fact that dogs are domestic by nature and lack the predatory insticts their wild ancestors use to survive. Therefore, it is extremely essential to help Spain's farmers by not only providing them with proper necessities to ensure their livestock is safe from wolves but also focusing on the situation regarding the country's feral dogs and acting upon it to prevent any further blame being put on wolves without any solid proof.

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