The wolf as an economic factor in rural areas
Location: Zamora – Spain,
Story by: Javier Talegon
The Spanish biologist Javier Talegon founded an ecotourism business to teach people about wolf biology and conservation. He also uses different activities to show how responsible ecotourism can be profitable and produce positive economic outcomes for rural areas.
THE STARTING POINT
As a biologist, I have been conducting studies on the biology of the wolf and monitoring of the species for more than 15 years. I was active in several scientific and management initiatives for this species, such as studies to determine and minimize the effect of infrastructure on wolves, an assistance program for livestock farmers affected by wolves and dogs, and herd protection system initiatives.
I am especially familiar with the situation of the border-crossing wolf population in the Spanish provinces of Valladolid and especially in Salamanca and in Zamora, of which the latter two are near the Portuguese border districts of Guarda and Bragança. In these territories, I’ve worked to assess the wolf populations in several regional projects and in the LIFE COEX project, and also volunteered with monitoring of the last census of wolves in Portugal. A fixed number of wolves can be hunted in Zamora, the permits are assigned in an annual auction.
The LIFE project COEX
The project aimed to develop the necessary legal and socio-economic conditions for the conservation of the bear and wolf, reducing actual and potential conflict situations through a series of measures implemented within a co-ordinated strategy. As a first step, studies on bear and wolf population size and distribution, would be carried out with the support of a Geographic Information System (GIS). Studies on damage caused by carnivores, damage prevention methods and causes of vulnerability of agricultural activities would be also carried out, together with surveys on public perception toward large carnivores.
Other actions include: the implementation of effective damage prevention methods, such as traditional and electric fences and use of livestock guarding dogs (LGD); the improvement of damage compensation and insurance systems, and monitoring to verify the effectiveness of these measures and how to adapt them to local conditions. Actions and studies targeting stray dogs, whose recurring damage to livestock is often ascribed to other wild carnivores, would be also carried out (i.e. development of a specific management plan and implementation of a vaccination campaign). The project also foresaw a wide information campaign aimed at the general public and rural communities, in order to raise awareness on ways to improve the coexistence between large carnivores and human activities, emphasising the potential economic benefit of conserving carnivores (e.g. eco-tourism).
One possible way to help society become aware of the species is to take advantage of the great interest it arouses, and to attract tourists to rural areas. This is why I created a tourism company in Sierra de la Culebra (Zamora), not only to observe wolves and their tracks but also to teach people about their biology, and conservation. The tools I use are varied: talks, activities with biological materials (skulls and skins) and periods of sitting and waiting to observe the animals. During the activity, I also show the lifestyle of shepherds and other people who have historically shared the territory and who coexist with these predators (with the help of mastiff dogs, human surveillance or night protection). This way, the wolf is also valued by interpreting the enormous cultural heritage that the species has defined in the human societies of the northwest of Zamora.
In fact, during some activities, historical traps used to capture wolves are visited. Additionally we collect information regarding the economic impact of the wolf in this region, to prove these types of activities can be profitable and have a bigger economic outcome than hunting the wolf. We use questionnaires to get information about participants expenses so that we can estimate the amount of money derived from this tourism.
Wolf-related tourism is an activity that brings the wolf closer to the society and increases the real knowledge on this animal among citizens. When the participants observe these animals in the wild, a bond is created and the awareness of the needs and the lifestyle of this animal increases. For some, this experience is dream come true. There are a lot of different activities that can be offered: talks, field trips with biological materials (skulls and skins), tracking courses or observation trips. Also a visit to a shepherd and other people who have historically shared the territory can be arranged to let the public become aware of the wolf.
It is very important to work to the highest ethical standards such as not using attractants or observing wolves near breeding areas.
Javier Talegón, Eco Tourism Founder
The living wolf has become an important rural development engine in the northwest of Zamora. Hotels, campsites, restaurants and nature tourism companies receive clients throughout the year. The first economic estimate of wolf tourism in the Sierra de la Culebra was made in 2012. The results showed that the visitors spent €450,000 in only one year on accommodation and meals. Since 2013, ecotourism and environmental program LLOBU has brought more than 1,400 people closer to the real wolf. Besides, another study carried out in 2016 found out that tourism improves the perception of the wolf among the inhabitants of their territory. The activities improved the social perception of rural inhabitants, usually the most opposed to the predator.
The whole LLOBU project has been financed entirely privately, without any public assistance. In the last six years, Javier Talegon has been investigating the relationships between wolves and humans in the northwest of Zamora during the 20th century. This work will be published in a book in 2019.