By studying the excrements of what appeared to be wolves in the Basque province of Alava and environs, two researchers of the Euskadi Wolf Group at the Doñana Biological Station have found out what animals are preyed on by wolves. According to the article, published in Animal Conservation journal, in this region European wolves feed 70% on roe deer and wild boar and only 3% on sheep.
However, not the same has been observed in wild or uncontrolled dogs. In fact, a number of the excrements analysed correspond to dogs, and it has been verified that 36% of the cases contained sheep remains.
Large predators, including gray wolves, are recolonizing many areas in industrialized nations. Over the last two decades, the Basque Country has represented the eastern limit of the Iberian wolf population. Of the 1300 km2 regularly occupied by wolves in the Basque Country, about 85% is in the province of Alava. Herds of latxa sheep are the most abundant livestock species there (83 500 sheep occur in the entire province, 41% of them within the range of the wolf). Sheep are often free ranging and are not under continuous supervision by shepherds.
These sheep are often reported to suffer attacks from wolves, which has led to conflict between farmers, managers and conservation agencies and groups. Governments are both spending large amounts of money in damage prevention and compensation, as well as designating areas where predator populations are strictly regulated or eliminated. These policies slow down the potential growth of the predator population.
Official accounts from the regional government of Alava showed that during 2003–2004, a total of 432 domestic animals were attacked in 154 separate incidents; 94% of these attacks were attributed to wolves. During this time period, only 10 attacks (affecting 30 animals) were attributed to dogs.
Feral and uncontrolled dogs are common and are also capable of attacking livestock, especially sheep. Their possible contribution to the depredation of livestock – and to the wolf’s bad reputation – is usually not evaluated by managers due to technical difficulties to determine the predator responsible for an attack.
But well-designed, respected and operational damage prevention and compensation programs are vital to minimizing depredations on livestock and reducing the conflict between natural predators and society. Researchers have shown that genetic methods are an important tool for developing such programs.
They used noninvasive sampling of feces and the genetic identification of individuals to assign each feces to either wolf or dog and compared the occurrence of domestic and wild prey in their diets. They collected 136 feces preliminarily identified as belonging to gray wolves. Mitochondrial DNA analyses allowed them to identify the species of origin in 86 cases: 31 corresponded to wolves, two to red foxes and 53 to dogs.
When compared the remains of prey identified in both wolf and dog feces, they saw each feces contained only a single prey item. Among the prey items identified in 30 wolf feces (the remains in one wolf fecal sample were unknown), 22 contained wild prey (17 roe deer, three wild boar, one Eurasian badger and one European hare) and eight contained domestic animals (four horses, three cattle and one sheep). Wild species represented 73% of all prey identified in wolf feces and sheep only 3%.
Of the 39 prey items they be able to identify in dog feces, 14 (36%) contained remains of sheep and seven (18%) contained remains of either horses or cattle. Domestic animals represented 54% of all prey identified in dog feces.
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