Spain’s government has contrasting opinions on the soaring numbers of Iberian wolf and lynx
AS Madrid moves to reclassify the endangered status of the Iberian lynx, the Ministry of the Environment has given its consent to a cull that could lead to the extinction of the peninsula’s native wolf.
And the Olive Press can reveal that although the Iberian wolf has been granted “strict protection” status by the European Union (EU), Brussels is expected to back the move.
This comes after numbers of the animal rose from 200 in 1970 to almost 3,000 in 2006 – and a dramatic increase in the number of attacks on livestock.
In the region of Castilla y León alone, the Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus) is thought to be responsible for the death of 2,000 sheep and 20 cows every year.
Under the agreement between the EU and Spain, the hunting of the animal south of the Douro – a 900-kilometre river spanning the north of the peninsula – will be legalised following years of campaigning by farmers groups.
Until now, the hunting of the wolf has only been permitted north of the waterway, in large parts of Castilla y Leon, Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria.
As Spain’s wolf population has expanded, packs of the animal have been found further south in remote parts of Madrid, Extremadura and Cuenca, leading to huge numbers of the wolf falling victim to poachers.
The exact figures are unknown, but up to a thousand are thought to have been shot or poisoned since the mid 1990s.
Now, the government has moved to legalise all wolf hunts and even has the support of Brussels – despite vetoing a similar plan in 2003.
An EU spokesman said: “We understand the social and economic problems large carnivores can cause. We also understand certain regions of Spain have a problem with an overpopulation of wolf.”
It is believed Brussels demanded strict quotas on the wolf cull in exchange for its consent.
The number of wolves to be killed is not yet known. However, the figure is expected to be 50 per year.
Despite support from the central government and EU, environmentalists claim the cull will lead to the animal’s extinction.
“This plan is ridiculous. Only in 2002 did the government want to include the wolf in the National Catalogue of Endangered Species. Now it wants to legalise the hunting of the animal.
“Combined with the numbers killed through poaching, this cull will lead to the eventual loss of the Iberian wolf,” Theo Oberhuber of Ecologistas en Accion said.
Moves to control the exploding wolf population come in stark contrast to that of the Iberian lynx, the world’s rarest feline.
With only 150 lynxes remaining in 2005, today there are believed to be 250 in the wild – an increase that could see the animal soon lose its endangered status.
Speaking at meeting of environment officials in Sevilla, Environment Minister Cristina Narbona said: “Spain intends to fix a timetable to remove the lynx from its status as a species under threat of extinction.”
The EU also announced it is ploughing 27 million euros into a lynx protection programme to supplement a government subsidy of 7 million euros.
As reported in the Olive Press (New lynx population found in Spain), the two established lynx populations in the Sierra Morena mountain range and Doñana National Park in Andalucía have recently been supplemented with the discovery of a new colony further north in Castilla La Mancha.