Wolves and Traditional Horse Husbandry in NW Iberia.
Wolf distribution in the Iberian Peninsula represents only a tiny portion of the whole species' range. Despite this fact, due to its geographical location and topographical complexity, this area holds a wide range of climatic and ecological diversity in relation to its size. At the same time, this ecological diversity together with a highly territorialised cultural diversity is well represented in socioeconomical traits and traditional ways, and yields a plentiful of regional and local particularities regarding livestock husbandry, rural economies, land uses and biodiversity. One of these particularities involves wolves and traditional horse husbandry from NW Iberia, and has turned into an interesting system where horses have become an alleviator of wolf-human conflict, and are also involved in a number of interactions that provide conservation outputs in a highly human-dominated landscape. Despite it is still a multi-prey system, in these areas comprising the north westernmost tip of wolf distribution in Iberia, horses make up by far the main prey of wolves (representing an overall mean frequency of 72% in scat samples but reaching up to 95% in some areas). Wild prey appear at very low densities in this area as well as in wolf diet, and are not capable to support the existing wolf population. At the same time, free-ranging horses perform a devaluated livestock market, far below other species in the area such as cattle or sheep. Horses are free-ranging in this area, barely attended, and represent a negligible cost for owners. Thus, predation on horses seems to be keeping conflict at lower rates than in other areas where predation on more valuable species is higher. Traditional horse husbandry has also other important implications in maintaining cultural landscapes and the conservation of valuable habitats, but new regulations pose an additional risk for its long-term persistence.
The footage you can see below is intended to illustrate this system involving humans, wolves and horses, with important conservation issues associated. All the sequences have been recorded in the wild and generously given up by IWRT's friend and collaborator Francisco Santiago. In this video you will see wild wolves belonging to this particular ecological frame, and some direct interactions between wolves and free-ranging horses. These wolves are at the same time some of the last wolves that literally reach the Atlantic coast of Europe. You can learn more about this interesting system and the conservation issues arising from it in:
López Bao JV., Sazatornil V., Llaneza L. & A. Rodríguez (2013). Indirect effects on heathland conservation and wolf persistence of contradictory policies that threaten traditional free-ranging horse husbandry. Conservation Letters, 6: 448-455.
Author (camera and production): Francisco Saniago López
Music: Antii Martkainen - "The land of eternal winter"
Sound (Howls): Vicente Palacios
Iberian Wolf Research Team © 2016. Photographs: IWRT, Francisco Lema, Artur Oliveira/CIBIO, Jesús Sáez-Horma. Web design: firstname.lastname@example.org and IWRT