WOLVES have returned and are breeding in the mountains just 85km outside the Spanish capital of Madrid. They're back after a 70-year absence – but are not considered a threat, according to a state source.
Farmers in the Guadarrama National Park area might not agree, however, as there have been 14 attacks on livestock with the loss of 28 sheep and one cow so far this year.
Last year the regional authority set aside €30,000 for a compensation fund for farmers but just €6,000 was claimed.
This particular canis lupus pack consists of, so far, just one breeding pair with three cubs born in the spring and one lone young female wolf. And despite the slaughtered sheep the conservationist voice is upbeat.
Biologist and 'wolf expert' Juan Carlos Blanco says the return of the wolves is "completely natural" as Madrid is surrounded by provinces where the animals normally live. He maintains the wolves will pose no threat.
"They are what we call 'good' wolves. They will not bother anyone and will pass largely unseen as they continue to spread south," he says. "They will not come into the city's environs because of the barriers that exist."
The wolves would not be a problem but rather a source of pride for the people of Madrid, he added.
The animals were hunted almost to extinction in Spain and in the 1970s just a few hundred remained in isolated pockets in the northwest, south in Andalusia's Sierra Moreana and along the border with Portugal.
Since then, numbers have been gradually increasing with animals settling in Zamora and the Cantabrian mountains. They crossed the River Duoro, a significant demarcation barrier, in 2000. Below the Duoro they are a protected species; above it they can be hunted.
There are an estimated 250 packs of wolves now, representing around 2,000 animals, and the species is slowly advancing southwards.
If the "good wolves" are not a concern, a newly revealed, unpleasant insect appears to be. This is vespa velutina, a species of massive hornet, commonly known as the Asian Predatory Wasp and four times the size of a normal honeybee. However it poses a massive threat to all bees, as it kills and eats them, and also decimates fruit crops.
This Asian has turned up in Catalonia, in the Val d'en Bas valley near Girona, a place known to many Irish visitors who fly in and tour by car sometimes crossing the nearby border into France.
Quite a number of specimens have been found but the original nest site remains elusive to searchers and now local agricultural officials are using a helicopter with a heat-sensitive camera tracking across the leafiest trees, usually favoured by the hornets as a nest site.
The hunt is a race against time as the nest and the 200 or so new queens therein must be destroyed before they disperse and go into hibernation next month.
Meanwhile, rural volunteers as well as officials from Girona bee-keeping groups continue searching on foot and laying insect traps.
If the hornets cannot be located and therefore reproduce in great numbers honeybees will be wiped out as they have no defence mechanism against them. Fruit crops will be devastated.