The Importance Of Wolf Conservation In Europe

The wolf as we know it had a long evolution and specialization from a generalist carnivore that lived around 100 million years ago to different wolf species. There are three species, the grey wolf (Canis lupus lupus), the red wolf (Canis rufus), the african wolf (Canis africanus), and various subspecies, as example the artic wolf (Canis lupus arctos) or the Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus). These different species and subspecies can be found in a wide range of habitats, from deserts to …., mostly in the north hemisphere.

The wolf lives and hunts in group, a social unit called wolf pack. To form a wolf pack are the reproductive couple and their offspring. The number of individuals per pack can vary greatly, have been registered 36 individuals in a single pack. However, there are four main factors that affect the size of the wolf pack: the minimum number of wolves required to find and capture prey with efficiency and safety; the maximum number of individuals that can feed successfully from that prey; the number of neighboring wolf packs; and how much social competition every member of the wolf pack can support. This great amplitude can be explained by different causes, like reproduction and death rate. In Portugal the population of Iberian wolves (Canis lupus signatus) reflects the great conservation complexity of this species in human dominated landscape.

Wolves are very resilient, since historical times where were chased and have a long association with human activities. The main threats to this carnivore are degradation and fragmentation of habitat, scarce availability of wild prey and illegal killing by humans (Human retaliation). Livestock predation is one of the main reasons for Men and wolf conflicts. The Iberian wolf occupies about 20% of its original area where between 200 to 400 animals currently reside. In human dominated habitat wolves are extremely dependent on domestic animals, the most preyed livestock is goat (Capra hircus), sheep (Ovis aeris) and cow (Bos taurus).

There are a number of studies carried about wolves feeding habits in Europe. Much of the wolf and its prey's habitats were fragmented and destroyed as a consequence of human activities. The diversity of native prey decreased from 5/6 species to 2/3. Overlapping areas with human and wolf populations have higher rates of livestock depredation, and even become an extremely important and vital prey for wolves. Otherwise, in areas with a high abundance of wild ungulates populations, wolves shift their feeding habits, choosing wild prey over livestock.

To preserve and work towards the wolf conservation, it’s decisive to understand the ecology in humanized habitats. With the increasing of human-dominated landscapes the food habits of big carnivores such as wolves need to be studied to avoid conflicts and prevent negative impacts. From the center of Europe to the northeast the preferred prey are the red deer (Cervus elaphus), the wild boar (Sus scrofa) and the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). On the other hand, in the south of Europe, characterized by extreme human density and intense livestock raising, wolves depend mostly on anthropogenic food sources, with some exceptions in areas with more wild ungulates. When the wild prey's abundance is higher, the predation towards domestic ungulates is lower. Studies in Portugal and Spain show that the Iberian wolf is very dependent on domestic ungulates.

Nevertheless, despite wolves’ small range in Portugal, there are still clear regional differences in the proportion of livestock consumption and the importance of each livestock species in wolf diet. Due to the wolf damage on livestock and all the related social and economic problems, the management of wild prey populations in their natural habitats is extremely important in order to minimize livestock depredation.

03 December 2019
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