Wolves return to Madrid 70 years after being hunted out of region

Experts confirm presence of a settled pack in Guadarrama National Park

Images of the Guadarrama wolf pack provided by the Madrid regional government.
Images of the Guadarrama wolf pack provided by the Madrid regional government.EFE

A wolf pack has chosen to settle in the recently designated Guadarrama National Park in Madrid, a study by regional environmental technicians and images from motion-detection cameras have confirmed. Wolves had been detected in the Madrid region — from where the species has been absent since the 1940s — from 2007 onward but these were proved to have been merely making sorties over the mountains around Segovia, in Castilla y León.

Now, Canis lupus has finally made the Madrid region its home, in only the second confirmed case of a pack living in a national park in Spain. The evidence supporting this conclusion was the birth of three cubs in the spring to the pack, which consists of two adults — the alpha pair — a female sub-adult and the three youngsters.

"We should accommodate them, because their presence is a clear indicator that the wolf has found everything it needs to settle in the Madrid region, which demonstrates an enviable biodiversity," says the regional environment secretary, Borja Sarasola, who added the "recuperation and consolidation" of Madrid's natural spaces has also resulted in the return of the vulture and otter.

As well as camera traps, experts used hair and fecal samples to piece together the movements of the pack, which is based in the Lozoya area of the Sierra Norte mountains, the northeastern end of the Guadarrama range in the region, 85 kilometers to the northeast of the capital. Their efforts were rewarded in May when a pregnant female was detected.

"It is a completely natural and expected process, because Madrid is surrounded by provinces where the species lives," says biologist Juan Carlos Blanco, a wolf expert at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and author of the only wolf census carried out in Spain, in 1988. However, Blanco notes that the region will never sustain a sizeable population: "The wolf can really only settle in approximately 30 percent of Madrid's territory, in those corners where conditions are still optimal." He also states that they pose no threat: "They are what we call good wolves; they will not bother anyone and will pass largely unseen [as they continue to spread south]," which they will not do across Madrid "because of the barriers that exist."

We believe the wolf will not be a problem in Madrid, but rather a source of pride”

Farmers would not necessarily share Blanco's view, of course. So far in 2013 there have been 14 reported wolf attacks on livestock in the area, resulting in the deaths of 28 sheep and a cow. However, of a total of 40,301 bovines and 16,367 sheep in the wolves' range, the impact has been minimal. On 2012, 30,000 euros was set aside by the regional authorities to compensate farmers for losses, of which only 6,650 was used. "This pack is the first to colonize an area big enough so they don't have to look for food on farming land," says Sarasola. "This means we are not concerned in this sense. We believe the wolf will not be a problem, but rather a source of pride for the people of Madrid."

Wolves were hunted out of the region 70 years ago, a trend that almost wiped out the species in Spain. In the 1970s, only a few hundred remained in isolated pockets in the northwest, a few spots in Andalusia's Sierra Morena and along the Portuguese border. But in the last four decades the population has been steadily increasing. Blanco observed wolves settling in Zamora and the Cantabrian mountains, and from there spreading to Valladolid. They then crossed the River Duero in 2000. "They are following a similar line as in other countries, although in the last 10 years their numbers have slowed and the population has remained stable. They might have spread south about 30 kilometers," Blanco says.

It is estimated there are around 250 packs in Spain, which could represent around 2,000 individuals. The Duero marks the wolves' security line: below it they are a protected species; above it they can be hunted. "Now that line has moved," says Blanco. "The species has advanced south, to the north of Madrid and Guadalajara, into the entire province of Segovia, and into a small part of Ávila."

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