Get to know the Species

The enigmatic world of the Iberian wolf

With a profound and enigmatic look, the Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus) is a subspecies endemic to the Iberian Peninsula and also one of the most famous forest animals. Despite the stories and myths that have emerged around it over the years, which have granted it a certain status, this species is currently strictly protected in Portugal as it runs the risk of extinction.

With a pointed snout, relatively short ears and yellow eyes, Canis lupus signatus was described in 1907 by the Spanish zoologist Angel Cabrera. Although it is considered a large canid that can reach 180 cm in length (male), it is different from other wolf subspecies as it is a little smaller and has a more yellow-brownish fur colour. Its fur becomes more scarce and clear in the summer, whereas in winter it becomes yellowish-grey and black with a dark shade from the neck all the way to the tail, or on the inside or on the front end of the paws.

There is much more to know about this beautiful animal, aside from its physical characteristics, such as how it is socially organized. Living in packs, wolves have a very well-defined hierarchy where everyone recognizes and respects their role and are quite loyal to the group.

Packs are usually formed by a dominant couple and their descendants, ranging throughout the year from two (in winter) to ten individuals (between the end of summer and the beginning of autumn). However, this number changes depending on the time of year and the amount of food they have access to in their different habitats, whether forests, woodlands or shrublands.

As for reproduction, it takes place once a year between March and April and pups are born after two months of gestation, around June. As for its number, the average number is 5 and can vary between a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 11 pups.

The Iberian wolf hunts for food in packs and ideally eats about 3 to 5 kilos of food per day, mostly small rodents and wild ungulates such as roe deer, deer and wild boar, the preferred food.

Unfortunately, with the decrease of large species, the wolf is forced to feed on domestic animals. For this reason, it enjoys legal protection in Portugal in order to preserve and recover this species. This species has the status of “Endangered, according to the Red Book of Vertebrates of Portugal. Its killing is thus prohibited and in case of attacks on herds, their owners are compensated monetarily. The Iberian wolf is also protected by several Conventions, such as the BerneConvention, CITES and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

To counter this situation, the Montesinho Natural Park implemented the HabMonte project, recovering mud areas and managing forest areas. This initiative is promoted by the ICNF and aims to contribute to the protection and conservation of protected natural habitats and to the enhancement of the  habitats of both the Iberian wolf and its preys, deemed fundamental for the balance of ecosystems. According to the ICNF: “Recovering these pastures allows the herbivorous wildlife of the Montesinho Natural Park to scatter throughout the territory – in particular, deer, roe deer and wild boar –, which thus find greater food availability outside the agricultural perimeter of the villages. The scattering of these animals also benefits the Iberian wolf, whose natural prey is large herbivores, thus keeping them away from villages and herds”.

Also in the Peneda-Gerês National Park, comprising 70,000 hectares of natural heritage and unique biodiversity, this species is part of the first protected area created in the country, part of the National Network of Protected Areas, managed by the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF). And this is where the parent population of the Iberian wolf is located  in Portugal.


Man and wolf have coexisted for thousands of years – some theories suggest that both species have been coexisting for 100,000 years. And there is a more consensual  hypothesis that suggests that its domestication occurred 10,000 or even 15,000 years ago. In the 19th century it was still a common species (Bocage, 1863). However, at the beginning of the 20th century it was already considered uncommon (Seabra, 1910), until the 1950s there was a drastic reduction, and wolves now live in only 20% of the territory that forms their natural habitat.

Both the female and the pups are kept in the den from birth until the end of the breastfeeding period, and all members of the pack assist in caring for the small wolves.

Within the group, the Iberian wolves use vocalisations to share the location with each other, as well as to warn as to eventual dangerous situation. On the other hand, its howl can be heard up to a kilometre away.

Among the various threats to this species is habitat destruction (often caused by the building of highways and other large infrastructure) that leads to the reduction or even extinction of wild prey. Human persecution also leads to cases of poisoning.

The Iberian wolf is one of the few species of Portuguese fauna covered by specific national legislation, namely the Iberian Wolf Protection Law (Law No. 90/88of 13 August and Decree-Law No. 54/2016of 25 August), which prohibits its killing, capture and the destruction of its habitat.

  • Mammal

  • Iberian wolf

    Canis lupus signatus

  • Genre:


  • Family:


  • Conservation status:

    “Almost Threatened” (NT) in the Iberian Peninsula and Endangered (EN) in Portugal, according to the Red Book of Vertebrates of Portugal.

  • Habitat:

    Open forests or woodlands of the mountainous areas and adjacent plains.

  • Distribution:

    Between the mountains of northern and central Portugal, there are two populations: one with about 50 packs in the Peneda, Gerês and Montesinho Mountains and another south of the Douro River, with only 10 packs and isolated from the other populations.

  • Height/Length:

    Females measure between 130 to 160 cm and weigh between 25 to 35 kg, while males reach 180 cm in length and 40 kg.

  • Longevity

    They can live upxx to 13 years of age in the wild and up to 17 years in captivity.

How to tend to the Ibeirian wolf?

Regarding the  Canis lupus signatus conservation, this involves the recovery and preservation of its habitat, starting with compliance with legislation. In areas where packs are referenced, some special precautions are in place, such as limiting forestry operations to sunlight hours, and pausing such activities between sunset and up to one hour after sunrise. Only thus will it be possible to increase the area of occupation and the distribution of current populations in Portugal.