When we were thinking about our travels, we decided that we didn’t want to have a long list of places we had to go to or things we had to see – we just wanted to follow our noses as it were. However, we do have a very short list of things we wanted to do and one of D’s was to visit the Iberian Wolf Recovery Centre, not far from Sintra.
There are about 2300 Iberian wolves left in the wild, 300 of them in Portugal. Despite being a protected species, they are still routinely hunted, killed by farmers and kept in illegal captivity. The centre is run by Grupos Lobos, an organisation set up to help protect the species, through conservation and education. The centre is used to home wolves which have been rescued from captivity, are disabled, orphaned or have recovered from injury, such as being hit by a car. They also take wolves from zoos which don’t want them as they get older. The wolves they home can’t and won’t ever return to the wild and they remain at the centre until they die.
They are kept in huge enclosures (the largest is about 1.2 hectares) in as natural surroundings as possible – all non-native trees, such as eucalypts, have been removed. The staff are also careful to have as little contact as possible – the wolves are very shy and even when staff do have to go into an enclosure (to clear vegetation to guard against summer fires for instance), they will often not see the wolf. Depending on numbers and compatibility, they might be kept in groups or alone – at the moment they only have 7 wolves. I naively asked whether that was a good thing – fewer wolves being kept in captivity or turfed out by zoos perhaps? No, apparently it is because farmers used to use traps which the wolves would often survive – the centre could then home them. Now the farmers use poisons so the wolf doesn’t have a chance of survival. I guess we’ll never know whether a wolf would rather survive a trap only to be kept in captivity (albeit as natural as possible) or just to die and get it over with.
You have to take a guided tour of the centre, walking around the outside of the enclosures hoping to spot a wolf while the guide tells you about their work and a bit about each wolf. They make it very clear that the wolves are not on display and you are not certain to see one – we were lucky to see three of them.
A couple of years ago, one of the wolves had a cub. She had not been successfully able to raise cubs in the past, so the decision was made to remove it and rear it by hand. A couple of months later, a second cub was noticed in the mother’s enclosure – the staff had no idea that the mother had had two. Brother and sister are now in an enclosure of their own, although our guide said they have to be careful of the sister, who was removed from the mother – she is much more used to human contact and often wants to play if they have to go into the enclosure. Lovely when she was a cub, quite different now she is a 40kg adult wolf!
It was a beautiful place to walk around and particularly wonderful to actually see wolves. They run on a very tight budget and are always looking for volunteers – that might be a future holiday for us.
AUSSIE DAD AND JAN
Beautiful-looking animals. They must be very shrewd to have survived this long. Unlike the Thylacine which wasn’t smart enough to outwit the Aborigines, then the Brits.