Last Saturday we went to visit the Centro de Recuperacao do Lobo Iberico to see the work that is being done to save the Iberian Wolf.
After a nice lunch and coffee we set off in search of the sanctuary. I had a vague idea of where it was but was unable to print off written directions due a fault on my computer but thought "it can't be that difficult to find". Hmmm.
We headed for Mafra and then took the road to Gradil and the Tapada (the old hunting estate of the royal family and well worth a visit). We passed one sign and then..... Now living here as long as I have, I am used to this but even I got baffled after driving through the centre of Gradil and out the other side with no other signage.
I pulled up next to a local who was selling fruit and vegetables out of the back of his little van and asked for directions. Armed with these I did a U turn and went back into the village and turned as instructed, opposite the church that was hosting a rather glamorous wedding. A sign pointing to the right gave us hope and off we went down the cobbled streets, past a quinta where I had been to a wedding and we carried on, and on, and on and .....By this time we were getting a tad fraught and irritable with each other and then the mobile went off so I hastily pulled over and whilst I was talking to the sanctuary, who had rung to find out where we were, Glenn was being waved at and directed by a local standing grinning opposite the car. We had actually stopped next to the sign for the entrance! Only in Portugal.
Heading up the incredibly steep hill, and then up through what felt like someone's back field, we made it and parked. Feeling like naughty children we were met by a lovely guide and made our apologies to the two other couples with children who had kindly waited for us.
Our guide then gave us a preliminary overview of the sanctuary in Spanish, Portuguese and English which was an eye opener. The wolves had used to roam the whole of the Iberian peninsula but now due to the fact that humans had systematically destroyed their food sources, humans had hunted them for their fur - you know where I am going with this - the wolves were now very rare. Luckily they now have protected status and it is against the law to hunt them.
The site is 17 hectares in size and split into sections. An interesting fact was that in the wild the wolves rarely live beyond eight to ten years, but in the sanctuary they can reach 18 years due to being safe and getting regular feeding.
We set off with the guide to see whether we would be lucky enough to spot them. The first place we stopped was where an elderly wolf lived happily on her own in retirement. She was shy and her eyesight was not what it was and was possibly slightly deaf and unfortunately she chose to stay out of sight. Apparently she was normally seen at dusk when she came down to have a drink from the water trough. Her area was full of trees and bushes and looked rather good for a retirement home.
The next stop off was to see a wolf who had been bottle raised and who had just had cubs. Our luck was in because she was watching our every move. In fact she stared everyone out and it felt as if we were the ones in the sanctuary and she was the viewer. Her name was Faia and she was stunning. Her eyes were the most wonderful clear blue/grey and her colouring was what we would call 'brindle' but with dark stripes down the front of her legs. She was much smaller than I thought she would be but Iberian wolves are the smallest in the wolf world. We all felt very privileged to have been so close to this lovely creature.
I apologise for the quality of the photos of Faia but there are many more on the web site which do the wolves far better justice than my efforts.
Unfortunately she was the only one we saw but I imagine that later in the year, when the weather is cooler, the chances of seeing more of them will be higher. There again you did wonder whether they were all sitting up under the trees in the cool giggling at the humans trying to spot them with binoculars:
The guide had some rather disturbing stories of how some of the wolves arrived at the sanctuary but the one that tickled me the most was the story of a man who rescued one from a drainage ditch and took it home as he thought it was a dog. After six months he realised that it really wasn't a dog but a young wolf and brought it hastily to the sanctuary!
When the horrific fires of 2005 threatened the sanctuary, the wolves were sedated and taken for safety to Lisbon zoo. We were interested to know how they did this and apparently it is done by blowpipe! They will only use the tranquiliser gun in an extreme emergency due to the dangers of damaging the wolf. It sounded like the blowpipe lessons were quite amusing.
The sanctuary has only two paid members of staff, everything else is done by a wonderful band of volunteers. As long as you are over 18, you can go and stay and help out for holidays, staying in little rustic houses on site.
The worrying thing is that the owner of the land where the sanctuary is, wants to sell it and now it is imperative to raise funds to help the wolves remain in this wonderful place.
You can adopt a wolf for as little as 35 euros a year and there is an on-line shop with items to buy to help.
It is a very interesting place to go to and you could combine it with a visit to the Tapada. It is open for visitors on Saturdays and Sundays and public holidays. October to April from 14.30-18.00 with guided tours at 15.00 and 16.30. May to September the hours are 16.00 to 20.00 with guided tours at 16.30 and 18.00. You should always ring in advance to let them know you will be visiting.
The web site (also in English) is www.http://lobo.fc.ul.pt
The address is: Quinta da Murta, Picao, 2665-150 Gradil, Mafra.
Tel: (00 351) 261 785037
They also have a page on Facebook