finding new ways to help researchers track and prove canid population numbers
If you thought collecting and analysing census data for humans was tough, you're about to see that it's pretty easy!
Tracking a species like the Iberian wolf which is afraid of humans and prefers to hide far away from them is a real challenge. Researchers always face a tough time trying to get the real numbers.
That information is vital. Without an accurate estimation of wolves it is not possible to protect them through the main mechanisms we have available today: legal protections.
Our work is going to help so many people and animals simply by making the estimation of wolf populations easier and more transparent. Of course, it's not going to be that easy after all!
Yulán is our principal researcher for this project. Having grown up near Burgos in the region of Castile y León, she has always held a deep admiration for wolves.
Now, as an accomplished researcher, she finds herself worried about the species' future. Yulán feels a calling to lead this project knowing that she is in a unique position to come to the Iberian wolf's aid with her extensive skills in data collection, analysis and ability to build strong partnerships with fellow researchers and advocacy NGOs.
MEET THE IBERIAN WOLF
There are around 2,000 Iberian wolves in the wild today. But, even this low figure is contested by ecologists.
Unfortunately there is further bad news. In 2017 it is estimated that 618 wolves died of unnatural causes. 259 were killed illegally by hunters, 74 were hit in road collisions and 293 were hunted "legally". Our work to help conservationists is critical for making legislative changes that can help ensure the survival of the species.
Information source here.
is the iberian wolf in danger?
The Iberian wolf is an endangered species. Licenses to hunt Iberian wolves are issues by regional governments in the North West of Spain on an annual basis. Yet, there is no accurate, widely accepted estimation of the species’ population.
The importance of establishing a clear and accurate understanding of the Iberian wolf population is made urgent by two major current issues in Spain:
a move by several regions in Spain to allow the hunting of Iberian wolves since 2015,
accusations by several biologists and NGOs (originally by Ecologistas en Accion) that the last Iberian wolf census significantly overestimates their population meaning that the effects of management schemes are not well informed.
Since 2014, when Ecologistas en Accion first raised concerns about the validity of the Iberian wolf census from 2003 and later from 2015, citing they fall short of a “national” study, it has become increasingly accepted that no one actually knows how many Iberian wolves reside in Spain. Census methodology deployed for previous efforts has been criticised for being too “basic”, understaffed (involving only two researchers), covering only a small area of the country’s territory and simply extrapolating the results.
This gap in information has resulted in mis-informed management plans that gravely threaten the survival of the species. It has become critical to address the situation urgently: the Iberian wolf is now legal to hunt in several regions across the North West of Spain. Regional authorities justify allowing the killing with references to the 2003 and 2015 census studies, even despite the inaccuracy of the census being cited at the European Parliament.
how many iberian wolves are there?
It's a difficult question.
All wolf species are very illusive given their fear of humans. That's why we don't just want to count them, we want to make the process of canid census data collection easier for all researchers.
Our project concept is rooted in the idea of approaching the Census 2.0 design as an opportunity to develop a framework that can inform and encourage the standardisation of canid population studies.
Thus, the research, development, testing and analysis of several approaches are the focus of what we are calling the Pilot Phase.
The Census 2.0 project will have three main activities:
Research and development of census methodology to determine key territory for investigation,
Field work to test Census 2.0 methodology and compile an estimation of the Iberian wolf population,
Data analysis and reporting.
Following the end of the project we will be able to:
Collaborate with other groups conducting canid census studies to improve, iterate and develop the methodology into a framework that can be fostered globally,
Expand our study to wider areas of Spain to gather “better” information on the Iberian wolf population nationwide, in collaboration with fellow researchers.
CENSUS 2.0 PROJECT METHODOLOGY
The practical studies will be carried out over three phases, the latter spanning over multiple years:
“Pilot phase”: an extensive combination of methods will be used to estimate the population of wolves in Sierra de la Culebra.
“National phase”: “best” combination of methodologies of the “Pilot phase” will be used to estimate the wolf population of Spain.
“Framework phase”: continuous selection and evaluation of census data collection methods and techniques.
The main challenge for the project team, as well as for any researcher hoping to accurately calculate wolf populations, is knowing which practices will yield the most accurate results.
Canid census data collection is notoriously complicated for several reasons described at length in related literature. Techniques available to researchers are either:
Expensive (i.e. forensic testing) or
Time consuming (i.e. manual counting).
This is the reason for the Pilot Phase of Census 2.0 being structured as an extensive research, development and testing phase - to scientifically test and analyse each approach and their combinations.
want to help?
Do you live in Spain and want to get involved with the census? Are you interested in helping us design ways to capture data or to analyse it? Do you want to help us raise awareness about the precious Iberian wolf and its fight for survival?
Get in touch and we're sure there's a way we can help each other to preserve this wonderful creature.
want to donate?
We require €80,000 to realise this project over two years and have already submitted funding proposals to several foundations.
You can help us reach the full amount by making a small donation to the cause.