IberiaNature A guide to the natural history of Spain
By Nick Lloyd - Home - Contact
 

Half-wolf, half-dog, myth or menace?

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Asturian government and livestock farmers are warning of the existence of wolf-dog hybrids roaming the hills of the 'Principality'. Wildlife groups have their doubts.

In recent years strange behaviour has been detected among certain wolf individuals, which instead of fleeing at the sight of humans, stay and stare, albeit at a distance. They are reported to be attacking sheep and cows in broad daylight and close to villages. Many farmers are blaming the increase in attacks on livestock in some areas on these dog-wolves. The stories are in line with the Asturian folklore tradition of half-dog, half-wolf crossovers, and tame wolves (known as lobos de jaulas - caged wolves) released into the hills to unleash havoc.

Some experts claim that the hybrids have inherited the wolf's ferocity and the domestic dog's lack of fear of humans. The theory goes that a hybrid might have arisen through the mating of a lonely, old male wolf and a young female dog. The other way round would be impossible. As one expert put it, 'the female wolf would have the male dog for breakfast'. The former coupling would raise hybrid pups which would then protect them from wolf attacks. They would then begin to form a pack and attract new adepts. The Asturian government claims to be in possession of a photo of one such coupling with its hybrid cubs, but strangely refuses to release it as 'it is scientific material under study'. Unlike the farmers, the government believes dog-wolves are exceptional and isolated cases, though it currently is concentrating its wolf culling efforts on eradicating such crossovers.

In contrast, the leading wildlife protection group FAPAS in the area is highly sceptical of the existence of the beast. They believe such a coupling to be impossible because a wolf will always kill a dog given half the chance. It also believes that feral dogs are not to blame either, as, unlike the rest of Spain, wolf country is virtually free of wild dogs: wolves just hunt them down and kill them. Instead they put the blame on domestic dogs: as Roberto Hartasánchez, the organisation's president, put it, "they go out at night and attack livestock. Then spend their days sleeping on the fireside rug at home. They are uncontrolled dogs, but they are not wild. In rural Asturias, most dogs are not fed at home. Where do you think they eat?... It's just easier to blame the wolf.

This may or not be the case, but as I noted the other day in ' Vulture feeding stations,
mad cows and wolves' :

"researchers have noted that wolf attacks on livestock are increasing because of the lack of carrion. The spread of mad cows disease into Spain means that, following EU rules, dead cows, sheep and goats can no longer be left in the countryside, and must be destroyed. The most important part of the diet of many wolf packs is carrion (see Return of the Iberian wolf ). Occasional feeding stations in areas where carrion represents an important part of wolves' diet would seem a cheaper and less contentious alternative to compensating shepherds for animals killed. Wolves, like many carnivores, frequently get so excited by the blood and slaughter that they kill far more numbers of a flock than they need. In Spanish these attacks are known as lobadas. One study in Burgos showed an average of 7.6 sheep killed for every lobada, Although this is surely exceptional, the wolf is at times its own worse enemy.
Also see http://www.fapas.es/lobos_y_mastines.htm

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Vulture feeding stations, mad cows and wolves

Aragonese authorities have announced the setting-up of a network of feeding stations* for vultures and other carrion-eaters. The spread of mad cows disease into Spain means that, following EU rules, dead cows, sheep and goats can no longer be left in the countryside, and must be destroyed. This directly affects scavengers which rely on dead livestock for 60-100% of their diet.

SEO offered the following figures for scavenger raptors for the whole of Spain for 2001:

Lammergeyer (70-80 pairs - 80% of >European population: principally in the Pyrenees)
Egyptian vulture (1,300 pairs - 80%)
Black vulture (1,200 pairs - 98%)
Griffon vulture (17,500 pairs - 85-95%)
Iberian imperial eagle (130 pairs - 100%)
Golden eagle (1,200 pairs - around 20%)
Red kite (3,500 pairs - 7% [80% European population winters in Spain])
Black kite (9,000 pairs - 18%).

These raptors have traditionally provided a quick, cheap and efficient way of removing dead livestock unfit for consumption. It is estimated that scavengers removed more than 15% of the biomass (around 10,000 tons in 1999) generated very year through deaths among Spanish livestock. More here:
http://www.seo.org/noticias.asp?id=11
http://personal3.iddeo.es/fab/eeb/vaciolegal.htm

On the same subject, researchers have noted that wolf attacks on livestock are increasing for precisely the same reason: the most important part of the diet of many wolf packs is carrion (see Return of the Iberian wolf ). Occasional feeding stations in areas where carrion represents an important part of wolves' diet would seem a cheaper and less contentious alternative to compensating shepherds for animals killed. Wolves, like many carnivores, frequently get so excited by the blood and slaughter that they kill far more numbers of a flock than they need. In Spanish these attacks are known as lobadas . One study in Burgos showed an average of 7.6 sheep killed for every lobada , Although this is surely exceptional, the wolf is at times its own worse enemy.
See
http://www.fapas.es/lobos_y_mastines.htm

*known in Spanish as muladares (1) or simply buitreras.
1. defined in the DAE as a place where dung or household rubbish is thrown.
See my lammergeyer article here

 

 

 

-

-