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The Iberian Wolf

Under 2,000 of the wolves, a sub-species of the Grey Wolf are thought to survive in the wild

The lobo ibérico, the Iberian Wolf, or to give it its latin name, canis lupus signatus, was nominated as a sub-species of the Grey Wolf (canis lupus) by Ángel Cabrera in 1907.

Iberian Wolf - www.wolf.org

The species is distinguished by dark coloured markings: a ‘saddle’ running along its back, and dark markings on the forelegs (hence the signatus denomination), with seasonal variations in its coat, from light brown to grey and shades of reddish brown. It is smaller than its eastern European cousins, with the male of the species tending to reach a weight of just over 40 kilos and females around 30 kg.

It was once found across the Iberian peninsula, but by the 1970s was reduced to the north western part of the peninsula and was in serious danger of extinction. Numbers at that time only reached an estimated 400-500 animals.

There are many reasons for the decrease in population, but maybe the largest is that the animal was seen for centuries as a pest: substantial bounties were on offer by the authorities, and provided an important part of the local income in many areas. Destruction of the species’ natural habitat was also a main factor.

Hunting is today banned throughout Portugal, but is still allowed in some parts of Spain – unfortunately for the species, in areas where it has a greater chance of survival: to the north of the River Duero, the river which runs westward for 895 kms from the Picos de Urbión in Castilla y León until it reaches its outlet in Oporto, in Portugal.

The last reliable census in 1988 estimated that numbers had increased up to 1,500-2,000 animals.
Latest estimates say that may now have risen up to 2,500, with encouraging reports of recent sightings at the approach to Madrid, and a general southwards expansion. Estimated annual poaching fatalities are, however, on a par with the Iberian wolf’s current annual birth rate.

The species is subject to EU protection south of the Duero as from 1995, with additional protection orders in place in Castilla-La Mancha and in Andalucía.
Castilla-La Mancha has also included canis lupus signatus on its list of threatened species.

Further north, the Iberian Wolf is classified by Castilla y León, Asturias, Galicia, Cantabria, and the Basque Country as a species to be managed in conjunction with human populations, in other words, that its survival must be respected as long as that does not come into conflict with human interests.