I was surprised to find out that we have wolves in Portugal, although I don’t think one is going to turn up on my doorstep here in the south, but they can still be found in the north and central areas of the country. They are mostly active at night, avoiding contact with humans, who are probably their biggest predator. Because wolves are wild animals, they will hunt down any prey – including chickens, sheep and any domestic animal, and farmers quite rightly wanted them off their land. But now, the Iberian wolf, which has been threatened with extinction, has been protected by law since 1988 in Portugal.
In 1907 this was described as a subspecies of the grey wolf, bearing the scientific name Canis lupus signatus – the Iberian Wolf, and according to the UK Wolf Preservation Trust, the wolves found in Portugal and Spain form a single population. It is estimated that there are around 300 breeding packs in Spain, and just 50-60 in Portugal.
Wolves were once numerous in Portugal, but by 1910 the population was in decline as they not only suffered habitat loss but some of their chosen prey species became extinct. Studies estimate that the wolf population within Portugal is between 250-300 animals, occurring only in the north and centre of the country – corresponding to 30% of its original range. By comparison, Romania has the biggest population of wolves in Europe, estimated at 2,500.
More about wolves
The creatures themselves are not much bigger than a large dog, females weighing around 25 -35kg and males around 35-55kg.
They are meat eaters, and in fact play a large part in the control of wild boar, but will also eat deer and wild rabbits – opportunists also, who will quite happily eat any carrion (dead animals) they find whilst roaming.
They live in small packs of up to 7 members, with their chosen habitat being rough and wooded landscapes to escape from humans. However, it's possible they could inhabit all kinds of habitat, from mountainous areas to agricultural areas.
The dominant male and female are the only members of the pack that can breed, and they are usually monogamous, often forming a life-long pair bond, with the rest of the pack consisting of other unrelated ‘immigrants’ as well as sub-adults from previous years. The female comes into season once a year, and once pregnant, her gestation period is between 60 and 65 days. Four or five pups will be born in a den dug by the female, or in a cave or other hole, and the pups will be born blind, with their eyes closed until they are 12 to 15 days old. The female stays with them constantly for the first 3 weeks, with her mate and other pack members bringing her food. Pups stay in the den until they are 8 to 10 weeks old, and are fed regurgitated food by all pack members until they are about 45 days old, which is when they start to eat meat on their own. Most young wolves disperse from their family packs when they are 2 or 3 years old.
They are extremely territorial, and packs usually defend huge areas of between 100 and 500km2, working together to hunt, raise their young and protect their territory.
Wolves enjoy playing and, for pups, play is an important way for them to learn the skills they will need to hunt and communicate.
In appearance, they have a brownish coat, which varies in colour from light grey to reddish brown. A few interesting facts – a wolf’s hearing is 16 times more acute than that of a human, they require about 3 kg of meat per day, but can fast for several days when food is not available and can run at speeds of up to 50 km per hour if necessary. Their blood-curdling howl is their way of communicating with each other, maybe their location, warnings about predators, etc.
With a mouthful of 42 teeth of four different types, they are capable of ripping, nibbling, puncturing and crushing – not something you could trust around your chickens!