So, Wolves Are Back in the Sierra de Guadarrama?

Allow me to tell you a tale of childhood, a tale of conservation. When I was growing up in the 90’s — old as dirt, I know — I remember distinctly being offered the opportunity to adopt a wide range of things. We could adopt highways, or we could adopt wolves and whales. Strangely, the ability to adopt human children was never offered.

Now, if memory serves, we ended up adopting a few humpback whales and a few gray wolves. At the time, I was flummoxed to find that we had paid good, hard American dollars — or at least my mom had — for the adoption of these creatures, yet they never once made an appearance at my house. Imagine!

Of course, now I understand that we were meant to be more like beneficiaries from afar, helping to rescue increasingly endangered species from their fate. Interestingly enough, as gray wolves were being painted as scapegoats in the American mid-west, the same thing was happening throughout the Iberian Peninsula. For the last half of the 20th century, Spain’s Iberian wolf was marked as a pest, a creature that only lived to destroy livestock and ruin human financial potential. Subsequently, the population in the peninsula dropped to no more than 500 individuals.

Luckily, They’re on the Rebound

Fortunately for these incredible creatures, the Spanish government granted them protected status. Despite the continuation of poaching and the vilification of the animals, a strange sort of parallel to their cousins across the pond, the Iberian wolf now numbers in the thousands, at least according to most estimates.

For my upcoming trip to Spain, the return of the species from the brink of extinction has interesting implications. Some 50 miles into the trek north from Madrid, I’ll be heading into the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, a prospect that has been extremely exciting to me since I started this mad dream — something about peeks and crags and dwarves. With at least one full pack of wolves living in the Guadarrama foothills, and with as many as six packs thought to be roaming in a 60-mile radius around Madrid, the stakes are considerably different.

I Won’t Say I’m Scared, but…

No, I lied; I’m terrified. See, I used to have these dreams as a kid — remember, this is a tale of childhood and conservation — whereby packs of wolves would chase me through the woods behind my house. My dog would eventually save me with her fierce yip, but there’s a problem: my dog is dead, and even if she weren’t, she wouldn’t be coming with me to Spain. (Woah, that got morbid fast.)

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t expect to have to go all Liam Neeson in “The Grey,” but I have definite concerns. I’m a chubby Western New Yorker with a propensity for petting animals that I know I shouldn’t. The chances of me at least losing a finger after getting a little too curious are pretty grand.

As is often the case, I’m a bundle of contradiction. Having seen way too many documentaries on wolves, I’m well aware that they could pick me off and eat me like a chunky rotisserie chicken. Likewise, those same documentaries drive me to find them and see them up close. I guess I should mention that the Iberian wolf isn’t known for eating humans, even if they are especially plump and juicy.

One thing is certain: if the numbers are to be believed, my chances of running into los lobos are pretty good. I only hope to savor the image before they get too curious about what McDonald’s tastes like.

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