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Wolf walking in Portugal

Environment & Wildlife, From the Field

Looking after Wolves in Portugal during a Pandemic

May 25th 2020

Tagged: Covid-19, Wildlife Sanctuary, Wolf

As we acclimate to keeping in touch with friends and family through digital means, it’s also imperative that we use technology to continue supporting the causes we care about. We have been reaching out to our partner organisations across the globe, including those in Portugal, who are facing unprecedented challenges, as their primary streams of income are threatened by travel restrictions and a tourism industry in crisis. We hope that by spreading the word about their circumstances, the wider global community can continue to support them from afar.

Wolves in Grass in PortugalVolunteer in Portugal | Wolf Conservation | WorkingAbroad

The Wolf Conservation Volunteer Project in Gradil, Portugal has provided a home to Iberian wolves across 18 hectares of spacious enclosures since 1987. Some are the victims of trapping, abuse and illegal captivity, while others come from zoos, meaning that they can never be released into the wild. The park simulates the natural environment as much as possible, and strives to provide them a life similar to the one they would have had if they could fend for themselves.

Wolves in Portugal are currently classed as Endangered by the IUCN; until the early twentieth century, they could be found throughout the entire Iberian Peninsula. Today, studies estimate that only 300 wild wolves remain in Portuguese territory. Until the recent coronavirus outbreak, the project was supported for ten months of the year by a revolving cast of volunteers, who live alongside the sanctuary and take part in a variety of physically demanding tasks, under hot climate conditions. They play an integral role in feeding and monitoring wolves; in essential forest maintenance tasks, such as tree felling; and in conducting vital infrastructure maintenance.

We spoke to Sara, the local project’s coordinator, who gave us a picture of what Covid-19 looks like on the front line of their organisation.

“Most of our budget comes from visitors and volunteers, so our project is in a very delicate situation. We normally get donations of meat for the wolves from supermarkets, but now there are no leftovers, so we have an extra problem; we have to buy meat, which is expensive. All the work we have to do in the forest is being done by members of staff alone, so we really miss the help of volunteers! We will not be able to do as much as we would like.”

“However, we have hope for the future. Portuguese citizens are behaving really well, respecting the recommendations of the government and health authorities. Because of this, the situation is not as bad as it is in other countries and we are proud of it. We also have faith in science, believing that it’s possible to better understand the virus, and that in time we will have a medicine or vaccine.

We believe that the best way to help us at a distance is by sharing our project and making donations, so that we can be sure to have funds for the basic needs of the centre, like meat for the wolves.”

Volunteers working in forest in PortugalVolunteer in Portugal | Wolf Conservation | WorkingAbroad

As governments have recently disclosed that the reopening of society will probably take months and not weeks, we asked Sara about the sanctuary’s prospects looking forward. Could there ever come a turning point due to a lack of funds, at which they would have to make drastic decisions?

“We can’t even think about that hypothesis,” she said.

The lack of volunteers on the ground is also negatively affecting the amount of manual work that can be conducted at the park.

“Everything that is related to the wolves and their welfare is being done by the team. Concerning the forest, we thought we would be able to plant more trees in March and April, and that didn’t happen. We will not be able to clean the entire area of the forest as we do not have enough people. Cleaning is very important because of the fire season in the summer.”

The outlook for the Wolf Conservation Volunteer Project in a world halted by pandemic is undeniably uncertain. While we may not be able to help them mitigate by volunteering in person at the very minute, we are fortunate to live in a world where we can take action from thousands of miles away. For those in a position to make a donation, any small contribution offers some hope for the future.

Written by WorkingAbroad blog writer, Ellie Harkness


To make a donation to any of our project partners, please click here to donate under PayPal – and remember to write in your reference which project you would like the donation to be given to. It should be the project name so e.g. Wolf Project, Portugal. Or make a donation directly to the project via bank transfer above.

If you are able to join the project as a volunteer later this year or in 2021, then we would love to see your application! The volunteer project runs from February to November, and we have made volunteer dates available all the way till November 2021. You can find more info via the project page and if you are ready to join already, you can fill in the online application form by clicking on APPLY NOW. 

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