FunNature & AnimalThe wolf can protect cattle from diseases

The wolf can protect cattle from diseases

Despite being a formidable animal, essential for the maintenance of many Mediterranean and temperate ecosystems, the Iberian wolf is considered an enemy of livestock in Spain, although its impact is much less than is believed. In reality, most attacks attributed to wolves are not caused by these animals.

The demonization of the wolf

Since the hunting of the Iberian wolf was prohibited in September 2021 throughout the national territory, many critical voices have tried to demonize their image, appealing to fear, insinuating that they are little more than a plague, or trying to convince them of how dangerous they can be. .

Cases have been exposed of wolves that have come too close to certain localities —sometimes maximizing their size, in the case of small mountain villages—, without taking into account a very relevant context: that these approaches are a symptom of unstructured packs that are victims of hunting. , since the wolf perceives a threat in the human being, and well-structured packs do not approach.

Some claim to have found up to ten specimens on a walk through the countryside, -a great feat, since experienced observers, following their trails and using the best known techniques, rarely manage to observe more than three or four specimens in a whole day.

Some photographs and a video of a wolf devouring the remains of a deer in the province of León even went viral, behavior that should not surprise anyone.

In the best cases these are anecdotal observations, and in many others, simple flowery hyperboles without a solid context. However, there is something that these critics miss with the ban on wolf hunting. And it is that this predator, far from being an enemy, can be a great ally of farmers, a kind of wild veterinarian, capable of controlling diseases that pose risks to the health of farm animals, and even to human health.

The wolf as protector

Many wild animals, such as deer and wild boar, can be reservoirs for disease. Some may have multiple wild hosts, as is the case with tuberculosis , a disease that spreads from one animal to another relatively easily, and that wildlife can transmit to livestock through contaminated vegetation, water or mud.

Tuberculosis causes significant economic losses in the livestock sector, with the added risk that without proper veterinary treatment, it can lead to zoonoses and cause public health problems. In addition, other animals such as the Iberian lynx are susceptible to it, causing conservation problems.

Like human hunters, wolves are extraordinarily selective in their hunt. But unlike humans, who prefer the largest and strongest pieces, wolves select the weakest members, which very often are because they are sick. And paraphrasing the well-known saying, “when the sick boar is dead, tuberculosis is over”.

This was shown by a study carried out in 2019 by a group of researchers from the Research Institute for Hunting Resources (IREC – CSIC), in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and the Government of Asturias.

According to their results, the elimination of the wolves initially causes an increase in the density of prey —in the study, of wild boars—, something obvious, which we already knew, and which can lead to an ecological disaster. But in addition, the disappearance of the predator increases the prevalence of diseases among its prey, and with it, increases the probability of transmission of these pathologies to livestock, and ultimately, to people.

This same preventive pattern, which places the wolf as a key element in disease control, also occurs with other pathologies, such as brucellosis —a very serious infection that can be transmitted to people through raw or unpasteurized dairy products, or by direct contact with sick animals—or anthrax —also known as anthrax , which causes blackish edema reminiscent of charcoal.

Lyme disease , as well as other diseases transmitted by ticks, are also pathologies with multiple hosts, which can become authentic human health problems. Similarly, it has been observed that a stable population of predatory animals, such as wolves and foxes, can reduce contagion.

Despite the bad reputation of the wolf among farmers, the truth is that these large predators can be excellent allies, acting as a protection system for the health of livestock.


Blackburn, J. K. et al. 2014. Dances with anthrax: wolves (Canis lupus) kill anthrax bacteremic plains bison (Bison bison bison) in southwestern Montana. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 50(2), 393-396. DOI: 10.7589/2013-08-204

Cowie, C. E. et al. 2014. Shared risk factors for multiple livestock diseases: A case study of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis. Research in Veterinary Science, 97(3), 491-497. DOI: 10.1016/j.rvsc.2014.09.002

Levi, T. et al. 2012. Deer, predators, and the emergence of Lyme disease. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(27), 10942-10947. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1204536109

Tanner, E. et al. 2019. Wolves contribute to disease control in a multi-host system. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 1-12. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-44148-9

What are the real impacts of a golf course?

Although it may seem that golf is a sport closely linked to natural spaces, it actually has a great impact on the environment.

When hyenas lived in the Arctic

These animals crossed from Asia to America through the Bering Bridge during the Ice Age.

The South American firefly, a new invasive species in Spain?

Initially it was identified as a new species of firefly, although it was soon seen that, in fact, it had been brought by the human hand from Argentina.

NASA discovers more than 50 areas that emit exorbitant levels of greenhouse gases

NASA's 'EMIT' spectrometer locates has targeted Central Asia, the Middle East and the US among others.

Scientists identify the exact number of hamburgers you can eat without destroying the Earth

A new report highlights how much we should reduce our meat consumption per week to prevent the climate crisis from worsening.