Are wolves rewilding Catalonia?

wolf aaroo

July 2014: the Grange family, a young French couple with their children, were on holiday on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. At about 8.30 in the evening, their campsite received an unexpected visitor. The Granges found themselves face to face with a wolf. Though the encounter lasted only a few seconds, both husband and wife snapped some photos before their visitor slipped away into the woods.

They were unafraid, merely fascinated by the encounter, perhaps because Monsieur Grange was an entemologist rather than some random member of the public. You can see their photos here.

Nor was it the first sighting of a wolf in the area over the past twelve months. Back in February, Ferran Jorda had also spotted a wolf in the Catalan Pyrenees and was able to snap a few shots at distance before the animal fled into the upper reaches of the mountains. His images are here.

It’s exciting news. One of the biggest, some might say outrageous, wishes of people who believe in ‘rewilding’ Europe is the reintroduction of the wolf. Yet here they are, quietly rewilding Europe on their own.

Scientists believe the wolves originally hail from the Italian Alps, so they must have travelled a long way to reach this new limit of their range. It is not yet known if this is the same animal, part of a pack, or merely a lone wolf over in Spain for the holidays.

Evidence of wolves in the Pyrenees goes back some ten years. Rangers observed their droppings as far back as 2004. This shows that the wolves are capable of surviving in the area: there is plenty of prey to support a local population.

Throughout this decade of partial or continual residence, the wolves have also failed to bother any shepherds or their flocks. Even if the wolves had been killing sheep, local farmers would not have been materially damaged because the French and Spanish governments have a compensation scheme in place.

Bizarre though it might seem, the wolf poses little actual risk to people. Indeed, they are shy animals who stay out of our way as much as possible. In both the sightings above, it is clear that the wolf stayed less than a minute in the sightline of the people that it had stumbled across.

The reappearance of the wolf in the Pyrenees is proof that even alpha predators can return to places where their ancestors had been eradicated.  Rewilding may be just beginning to catch on as a global movement, but it seems like the world’s wildlife is ready and willing to reclaim spaces that they had once called home.

12 responses to “Are wolves rewilding Catalonia?

  1. Is this also partly an outcome of the wildness of some areas of the Pyrenees have just become uneconomically viable since the global recession, and so people have ceased to work the demanding terrain leaving a little gap for the wolves to refill? Just wondering.

    • No, I don’t think so, Agnes. There isn’t a great deal of building work that can be done in this terrain. It’s very rocky and often inaccessible. What building work does take place is concentrated in ski resorts, and a lot of the countryside elsewhere is otherwise protected by the local government. The first modern sightings of the wolves also go back to before the recession (in 2004, Spain was still in the grip of a feverish and unsustainable property boom) so I am hoping this is a real, long-term viable trend.

      • Yes, let’s hope so – it’s similar to the return of beavers to Devon only they have been actively reintroduced and then allowed to go wild – sadly apparently a 5 year trial only at the moment.

      • Let’s hope the beaver can return. The UK has been slipping behind other European countries in this regard and we need some success stories to convince people of the value of rewilding,

  2. Alastair, I love your use of the word “rewilding.” This word and concept is new to me. Because wolves were killing and eating so much livestock in the American west, they were considered a menace. Hunters eventually killed so many that they disappeared from the area. Biologists in the National Park Service believed that as a natural part of the ecosystem, they needed to be re-introduced. This isn’t rewilding, but it worked. They’re back in places like Yellowstone National Park, and on my last visit there, I was lucky enough to see a wolf pack chasing an elk (luckily, the elk escaped). It was a grand sight to see. ~James

    • Oh wonderful, I’m very jealous (although maybe the elk wasn’t so happy)! I have never seen a wolf in the wild.
      The concept of rewilding has just caught on in the last year or so in the UK, led especially by George Monbiot, whose book Feral I reviewed a while back. It’s the most inspirational book I’ve read in years.
      More good news: the US has been behind some spectacular successes over the last few decades: just look at the healthy population of blue whales that now exists off the coast of California. That’s no accident.

  3. You don’t have to go far outside of Houston, Texas to hear the beautiful howls of a pack of wolves. I can sit outside on my father’s porch in western Kansas and hear them, as well. They are alive, growing and thriving, as they should in America. I’m facinated by your post and encouraged. Your drawing is awesome, Alastair. Oh to visit the Pyrenees. day.

    • How exciting to sit on the porch and hear the wolves in the distance – the spirit of the pioneers lives on! It proves that we can coexist with all sorts of animals if we give them a chance.
      I’m pleased you liked my wolf! I didn’t feel right taking the wolf images taken by the witnesses so I provided my own version!
      You want to visit the Pyrenees, Audrey, but I want to see the wide expanse of Texas. I was there once but only in Dallas airport on my way to San Diego.

      • Yes, exactly, Alastair. We must prove we can coexist with nature. I believe we can. You would love Texas. There is an enormous amount to learn here and if you enjoy early American/Texan history, then this is the place to visit. Maybe one day we can give each other our personal tours of the area we love. And I did enjoy that drawing…very much. 🙂

      • I’ll take you up on that! There’s a wonderful moment in On The Road by Kerouac when they arrive in Texas and he feels awed by the sheer scale of the country. It really stayed with me.
        One day, one day…

  4. National Geographic last year mentioned how wolves were coming back into the US as well, Yellowstone Park is one of the main areas. It all feels faintly medieval or something, I am going to choose to eat only courses of meat and mead from now on and throw the bones to the dogs, or the wolves if they are close.