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.