In this Razor special Neil Cairns heads to Portugal to find out how an innovative conservation scheme is helping to protect wolves. Once common, numbers dropped to a low of 300 in recent years. Biologist Silvia Ribeiro of Grupo Lobo, or Wolf Group, is on a mission to reverse this trend using a secret weapon: livestock guardian dogs. For millennia, these dogs worked alongside shepherds to protect herds against wolves and bears but as these predators declined, so did the numbers of guardian dogs who were replaced with smaller, more affordable dogs.
Ribeiro is running a government backed scheme in which she breeds guardian dog pups and places them with farmers, while also supporting their development and feeding for two years. This has created a sustainable model where the farmers don't attack wolves in fear over the safety of their livestocks, thus the wolf population grows, along with that of the native guardian dog.
Wolves have long been persecuted as evil and harmful animals, but perception is changing around the world, including in China which now has a wolf population of around 6000 but is still adding them to their endangered species lists, to ensure greater protection.