Scottish researchers have suggested farmers should not fear wolves as livestock predators because they can help to control the spread of tuberculosis (TB).
Experts at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, collaborating with Spanish researchers at the University of Leon, found TB prevalence in wild boar was lower when wolves were present and TB in cattle increased when they were absent.
The findings came from mathematical models and field data from 2000-2014 in the province of Asturias, Spain, where the wolf population occupies two-thirds of the region.
Prof Andy White from Heriot-Watt University said: “A key finding from the mathematical model showed wild boar density may be regulated by infection with high TB prevalence or by predation at low disease prevalence.
“Therefore predation, by removing infectious individuals, improves the health of wild boar populations and so the loss of individuals from wolf attacks is balanced by the reduction in death due to disease.”
Jaime Marcos, from the Hunting Service of the Government of the Principality of Asturias, said the annual cost of compensation paid to farmers for wolf damage was about €1 million (£886,000) – a quarter of the annual expense of the TB eradication plan, which exceeds €4.1 million (£3.6m).
Professor Christian Gortazar from the Spanish Institute of Game and Wildlife Research added: “Paradoxically, our research has found that wolves may not be a hindrance to farmers but, in fact, a benefit by helping to prevent the spread of deadly diseases such as TB among livestock.
“Therefore these predators may be providing a key ecosystem service which should be recognised when considering human-carnivore conflicts and the conservation and re-establishment of carnivore populations.”