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Big bad Canis lupus is back, and he's going to eat your girlfriend

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It's with one eye on the distant sierra and a shotgun close to hand that I report today that attempts to expel wolves from the Spanish province of Ávila have failed.

Despite vociferous and emotive exhortations, mostly from farmers, the Junta de Castilla y León has rejected a call to declare the province a "wolf-free zone", contrary to EU Directive 92/43/EEC (here, PDF), which classifies the animal as a "priority species", whose protection "requires the designation of special areas of conservation".

Over the past few years, the wolf has benefited from this protection, gradually spreading south from northern Spain, to the alarm and indignation of cattle owners. El Diario de Ávila reported back in February that attacks on livestock had doubled in a year - 236 in 2013, up from 111 in 2012.

However, Nicolás González, head of Espacios Naturales y Especies Protegidas (Natural Spaces and Protected Species), put this into perspective by explaining that those affected in 2013 were "107 of the approximately 2,500 significant livestock operations in the province of Ávila". He added: "Only 8 per cent have suffered seriously (between 6 and 10 attacks), and 2 per cent very seriously (more than a dozen attacks)."

Those farmers worse affected were offered support to eliminate the threat, but not one wolf was bagged "because it's not simple", González explained. Instead, farmers were advised on how best to protect their animals, including acquiring mastiff canine bodyguards and erecting proper enclosures.

Unsurprisingly, farmers would prefer to eject the wolf altogether, although thanks to campaigns such as this one at Change.org, which attracted over 192,000 signatures, the extermination plan looks to be dead in the water.

The issue isn't just one of loss of livestock, though. One commenter to El Diario de Ávila article fulminated: "Perhaps the wolf problem will be resolved when they attack people (weekend ecologists) who go walking in the mountains. The wolf is RUINING THE COUNTRYSIDE IN AVILA AND IN CASTILLA Y LEON, that is the shocking truth, and ecologists shouldn't come to defend what can't be defended."

The big bad wolf: Lock up your girlfriends

This reflects my own experience of locals' reaction to the wolf: fear and loathing. In every village hereabouts, old timers tell a version of the absolutely true story of how one young girl, having spent some quality time with her boyf, unwisely decided to walk home by moonlight. By the time her beau responded to the blood-curdling screams, all that the wolves had left were her handkerchief/shoes/scarf (select according to preference).

Such prejudice is a boon to local farmers, but while the loss of livestock is regrettable, and they should of course be compensated swiftly and adequately, I reckon it's time they got with the programme.

While talking to our local shepherd, who with around 50 animals was predicting bloody lupine carnage, I suggested he follow the suggestions of the powers-that-be about proper enclosures and the like. This was completely unacceptable to his mind, following a lifetime of allowing his sheep to wander with impunity over (mostly) other people's land, including mine.

Sadly, while railing against the EU and its meddling ways and animal rights nonsense, he at no point acknowledged the European grants which have in large part allowed him and his fellow livestock owners to continue, in the face of local agricultural collapse.

In an area now largely supported by tourism, it's likely that the presence of the wolf will prove vastly more beneficial than protecting the dwindling number of cows and sheep, assuming weekend visitors don't let their wives/girlfriends venture out alone at night. ®

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