Spain cannot control growing wild animal populations

by Lorraine Williamson
wild animals

In recent decades, the population of wild animals in Spain has increased to such an extent that regional authorities want to take action. However, an effective policy is not self-evident because it requires deviation from national regulations. 

For example, Extremadura regional president María Guardiola recently announced that hunting is allowed again in Monfragüe National Nature Park. The regional government of Galicia did the same by allowing the hunting of wild boars in 80% of the region. However, a clear and effective policy regarding the state of emergency that justifies hunting is still lacking because this is a controversial subject. 

Problems becoming clearer 

Exact figures on the number of wild animals are not available, but the fact that the population is increasing rapidly is noticeable in the problems that these animals cause. For example, they transmit diseases to livestock farms, cause more and more traffic accidents and destroy the crops of Spanish farmers. 

A recently released report by Spanish scientists shows that traces of Covid-19 have been found for the first time in wild deer in the Madrid area. This confirms that there is an increasing interaction of diseases between animals and humans. 

As in Italy and Poland, the populations and habitats of wild boars, roe deer and deer have been expanding on Spanish territory since the beginning of this century. No one seems to have a suitable answer to this yet. Under current conditions, with more and more abandoned areas, increased agriculture and climate change, growth will only increase without intervention. In addition, the population of wolves, the natural enemy of these animals, is actually decreasing in size. 

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No central solution yet 

In 2022, the central government made another attempt to regulate hunting in Spain, which was met with strong resistance from environmentalists. No clear solution has emerged and sub-administrations continue to struggle with the problem. Regions such as Galicia, Castile La Mancha, Castile and León, Catalonia and Andalucia have already declared a state of emergency in less than a year when it comes to the growth of wild animal populations. This mainly concerns the increase in the number of wild boars, but animals such as rabbits also cause problems. By declaring a state of emergency, the regional authorities are currently only considering relaxing hunting restrictions. 

Because there are no official figures on the number of wild animals in Spain, a standoff has arisen between environmentalists on the one hand and the hunting industry on the other. Moreover, the only data available comes from this hunting sector in particular. Only the traffic service, DGT records data on the number of accidents caused by wild animals. 

Two million wild boars by 2028 

Fernando Villanueva of the Artemisan Foundation, an NGO dedicated to the management and conservation of flora and fauna in Spain, believes that a centrally controlled policy is essential. In addition to the fact that animals do not care about regional boundaries, a decisive and global policy is indispensable to maintain control over the situation. If nothing is done, he says, there will be at least two million wild boars in Spain by 2028. According to Artemisan’s calculations, the wild boar population will double every ten years. According to Villanueva, the growth in the number of wild animals has already seriously affected biodiversity in Spanish nature parks. 

Perhaps even more important is to prevent new diseases from developing that could pose risks to humans. According to agricultural scientist Gustavo del Real, this can only be done by taking the control of wild fauna seriously and formulating a general and effective policy that is supported by a multidisciplinary team of experts. This is only possible if the current situation is better mapped out and strategies are tailored to current information. 

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