Rebuilding: More nature, less fire

However, things do not look so well south of the Douro, and this also applies to the reconstruction pass in the Côa Valley. There are probably only about six cans here. Douro presents a very difficult barrier. Their vineyards in particular are part of a landscape that is highly modified and heavily influenced by humans that a wolf rarely wants to get close to,” explains Sarah Alicar, Conservation Director of Wildlife Reconstruction Portugal. DNA study published in Nature in 2018warns of the dangers of inbreeding for wolves south of the Douro.

The article proves the high level of genetic isolation of these animals from the rest of the packs in Portugal. “This means that the risk of extinction is much higher here. These packs need to expand and mate with other packs to survive.” The packs located south of the river are very small, on average they have only 4.2 adults and 2.3 puppies. “Because reproduction here is very unstable, rates are less than 50 percent in more than half of the packs,” the biologist adds. No evidence of breeding has been documented in the Côa Valley since 1995.

While vineyards and orchards dominate agriculture around the Douro River, south of the Gap River led to the great increase in herds described by Mariano Risio. At first, these animals were not confined behind fences – they were almost a table for opportunistic wolves. This led to a massive increase in wolf attacks on livestock in the area between 2012 and 2016.

“People have simply forgotten how to live with wolves.”(Sarah Alicar, director of wildlife conservation at Rebuild Portugal)

The herders complained that legal compensation for their losses was not enough and that the government did not offer other solutions to coexist with the predator. They have taken matters into their own hands, and group sightings in the Côa Valley are becoming less frequent. “We lost sight of the last stable group here in the valley in 2016. It is possible that they were killed,” says Alikar, along with colleagues. I have accurately captured the attitude and acceptance of people here towards wolves. “Wolves’ acceptance here is among the least wolf groups we have surveyed. People have simply forgotten how to live with wolves,” says the researcher. For this reason, Rebuild Portugal is working on strategies to break the “cycle of harm and persecution in response”.

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Rancher Roy Matos witnessed the first wolf attack on his Quinta do Tabalião ranch near Guarda in 2014 at the height of the attacks. Little calf died. It was worth about 500 euros, but I had to wait more than a year for compensation, which then made up about half the value,” Matos said, shaking his head. The head of the local ranchers association said he realized at this point that he needed to invest in protecting Better “After founding the Rebuilding Portugal Program in 2019, I was one of the first people they contacted to start collaborating,” says Matos. In his estimation, the group’s proposals and concepts have improved the situation.

Shepherd Hattie protects the cattle

After a hot May day with a temperature of almost 30 degrees, the sun disappears on the horizon behind Quinta do Tabalião. A few Angus calves remained in the shade of the large boulders strewn across the green grass. As Matos got up from his chariot, a figure of a herd of cattle appeared, almost taller than some calves – the Hattie, a 19-month-old breed of shepherd who is the Cau da Serra da Estrela, bred specifically to protect from predators.

© Roman Jurgen (Details)

Shepherd dogs like Hattie protect herds of cattle.

Although Hattie and Roy Matos greet each other like old friends and a huge dog puts its feet on the shoulders of a farmer, the farmer makes it clear that a dog’s number one loyalty is to livestock, not to people. “We worked on this with a trainer from Rewitting Portugal. For dog lovers like me, it was difficult to keep Hattie out of the herd all the time. But this was the only way the bond between dog and livestock could develop, and this is very important if we want to protect them effectively. ‘ Matos explains.

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Hattie is one of 52 herding dogs incorporated into Côa Valley farms by Rebuild Portugal with support from the LIFE WolFlux programme. “Farmers get the dogs for free, and we pay for the vet, insurance, and food for two years. Above all, we provide integration assistance and training on how to handle the herd,” explains Sarah Alikar.

In addition to this canine project, the Reconstruction Program provides further assistance to reduce human-wolf conflict – eg, support and funding for mechanical and electrical fencing. In addition, conservationists also want to change the favorite food of the wolf.

live with the wolf

Rita Torres is a biologist from the University of Aveiro, He searched extensively for the Iberian wolfparticularly the enclosures in northern Portugal. A study she did from 2020 showsHow also could conflict between farmers and wolves be reduced in the Côa Valley – simply by offering more wild prey to the wolf. Torres and her colleagues analyzed wolf droppings from the Montesinho Natural Park north of the Douro.

There, the presence of wild herbivores, especially deer, has increased significantly in recent years. “Wild ungulates are the wolf’s natural prey. For Montesinho, we demonstrated that as their numbers increased, so did the wolf’s diet — away from livestock and toward more game,” Torres explains. The biologist is confident that an increase in wild herbivores in the Côa region will have a similar effect. “In particular, reintroduction of European roes could significantly reduce attacks on livestock,” Torres says.

The researcher stresses that reintroduction of prey species must be carefully coordinated with other prevention strategies. “But members of the Reconstruction are on the right track, and above all, they’re communicating with the people out there again when it comes to protecting the wolf species,” the expert says. Breeder Roy Matos agrees. “It’s good that they are increasing the number of matches here. It will reduce some of the damage that bad farming has done here in the past. More games means more variety – and that’s good.”

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However, the Reconstruction Team, Matos and other farmers stress that politicians must not leave the people of the region alone in such efforts. When asked if he would still be comfortable having a herd of wolves near his farm, Matos held his lips and hesitated, then said, “If there is a fair and quick compensation for the attacks, then yes. But as things stand, the breeders here will have problems with it because it is likely that They leave damage and costs.” However, Matos is confident that “if we can find a balance between wild prey and predators” there will be no problems with coexistence.

Learning from the past

The sun is now setting behind the valley. Slightly north, guide Marco Ferraz holds his lamp over the rock carvings at Koa Archaeological Park. Ferraz prefers to bring guests here after dark, when artificial light provides better contrast for seeing the fine lines carved into the rock by hunters thousands of years ago. “Do you see the antlers? And look at that big belly—the mare must have been pregnant,” Ferraz says, shedding light on the photos.

© Roman Jurgen (Details)

Rock inscriptions in the archaeological park | The field images are between 12,000 and 24,000 years old and show a number of different animal species. It is likely that many of them will soon live in the area again.

These images of arches, wild horses, or ibex are between 12,000 and 24,000 years old. Without their discovery in 1994, a dam project that would have submerged the entire Côa Valley would have been realized. Today’s pass was impossible. Almost as accurate as modern camera traps installed by the Reconstruction Program in the valley, the Paleolithic artworks give researchers an idea of ​​what types of animals are or may be at home here. If the plan succeeds, rock engravings as well as digital photos may soon show the same type.

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