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Wolves, shepherds, science, and spectacle: rural/urban divides and the construction of the environment in late Franco's Spain


After tragic events in San Cibrao das Viñas in 1974, wolves were in the spotlight of Spanish society. Both their defenders and detractors, who wanted the extermination of the species, engaged in a heated debate in which Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente also participated. Carlos Tabernero, researcher at the IHC, tells us about it in this article.


In July 1974, a she-wolf allegedly killed two children and wounded a teenager girl in San Cibrao das Viñas (Ourense, Galicia, Spain). A press outburst followed, first with the news of the killings in the crimes and accidents section of several newspapers, and soon with a discussion of the killer’s identity, whether a wolf or a feral dog (1). A short analysis backed by the CSIC blamed feral dogs in an early effort to exonerate wolves, denounced the local shepherds’ “psychosis of invasion of wolves,” which could not be justified while wolves were actually an endangered species, and defended the need to establish appropriate reserves as opposed to extermination (2).

Locally situated conflicts have typically been crucial in the construction of narratives about nature, and the sociocultural space of communication has a fundamental role in the struggle for meaning concerning notions of natural heritage. In this case, the media outputs exposed quarrels and negotiations, the development and interaction of subjectivities and experiences about nature, and the eventual creation (or confirmation), within the construction of power relations, of agent and non-agent subjects. In this case, such an early display of scientific authorities points to a deep-rooted struggle between nature conservation policies and rural people’s everyday activities. In fact, a few days later, local newspapers were already linking TV icon Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente and his media activities (3, 4), as well as the Hunting Act of April 4, 1970, to the tragedy. The Hunting Act had changed the status of wolves from vermin to big game, in effect protecting them against indiscriminate extermination. It was argued that wolves were thriving in the area because “Rodríguez de la Fuente [had] convinced people who ignore the countryside that these beasts [were] harmless” (5), an accusation that clearly established the opposition between rural people’s everyday endeavors and alien urban people’s views of and power to manage life in the countryside.

The debate on the need or opportunity to exterminate or conserve wolf populations in Spain became increasingly heated in the media. While wolves understandably remained at the heart of the debate, the spotlight quickly turned to Rodríguez de la Fuente, at the time already a celebrity naturalist, activist, natural history author, and television star. From his position, in a context of development of natural history television content in relation to the design of educational strategies for broad audiences, but also of strong censorship by the regime, Rodríguez de la Fuente even allowed himself to be critical of policies related to the management of natural heritage. Accordingly, as an untiring advocate of conservation, and already a renowned wolf-breeder (1), he obstinately argued for the conservation of wolves, and thus he was swiftly drawn to the heart of a dispute involving shepherds, hunters, scholars, forestry experts, and policy makers and analysts, playing a significant and ambiguous part in the construction of discourses about human–wolf conflicts that confronted the experiential knowledge of rural citizens’ everyday lives with urban-bred scientific management approaches.

In this case, socioeconomic issues immediately began to gain weight in the debate. In an article published in the magazine Triunfo (6), journalist, biologist, and activist Joan Senent-Josa built on the urban/rural opposition by arguing that Rodríguez de la Fuente was not considering the destitute rural living conditions when he insistently coupled together people’s education and the appreciation of conservationist ideas with the socioeconomic development required for Spain to be accepted in the political and economic heart of Western Europe. In this sense, Rodríguez de la Fuente’s celebrity status also seemed to be suddenly backfiring on him. His position as a media icon, a token for the power of media representations of nature and the related construction of authority, was apparently setting him against rural people’s everyday-life experience, but also against scientific experts (1). The initial personalization of the arguments across the rural/urban boundary was swiftly underlined by criticism from the science/celebrity divide, as his arguments were belittled on account of his seemingly sensationalist simplifications of natural history knowledge (1, 4, 7).

In the midst of this media storm, the influential newspaper ABC vigorously re-entered the debate with a comprehensive report of three luxurious installments in the popular newspaper’s Sunday magazine Los Domingos de ABC, written by renowned newspaper, radio, and television journalist Tico Medina (8). The report, which gave voice to people more or less directly involved in the incident, focused, however, on strengthening trust and credibility concerning the application of scientific knowledge to people’s circumstances in the affected areas. Experts such as Rodríguez de la Fuente or Javier Castroviejo advocated controlled hunting drives while insisting on the need for rigorous studies to identify and exterminate the animals responsible for the killings while opposing extermination campaigns. Shortly after, Ramón de Madariaga, then Secretary General of ADENA, insisted that the extermination of wolves was not the answer, but rather a serious focus on the scientific management of the environment in order to enter into a prosperous and internationally welcomed dynamics of development (9).

Later on, Rodríguez de la Fuente cast his wolves as main characters in the four renowned episodes about the species of his acclaimed television series El Hombre y la Tierra (1974–1981). In the first episode, El lobo, broadcast on February 18, 1977, he summarized some of his previous media outputs to render a highly dramatic reconstruction of the conflict between wolves and shepherds. It served to strongly denounce outlawed hunting practices, such as traps and poison, and to call again for further administrative action. As expected, the episode was not well received in some circles and, in the context of its massive audience, brought the urban/rural epistemological quarrel back into the spotlight, where the construction of agent and non-agent subjects across not only the urban/rural, but also the expert/non-expert, and the science/celebrity intertwined boundaries, was coupled to an unforgivingly lopsided portrait of the social structure of the Spanish countryside.

In all, the case of the killer she-wolf shows the complexity of the processes of scientific knowledge production and management. It exemplifies how science and modernization discourses conveyed through powerful media practices play a crucial role in the shaping of a society in relation to nature and notions of the environment. With media outputs accounting for most of the epistemological actors in play, it shows the development and interaction of subjectivities around natural history knowledge, and the sociocultural construction of agent and non-agent subjects as related to the opposition between the rural and the urban, itself a situated projection of the conflict between the local and the global in the generation of narratives about nature.

Carlos Tabernero

Institut d’Història de la Ciència (IHC), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)


(1) Carlos Tabernero. The case of the killer she-wolf. Media, science, and the construction of the environment in late Franco’s Spain. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 52(4) (2022): 523-545.


(2) Editorial, “Lobos, perrilobos o perros asilvestrados en la provincia de Orense.ABC, 10 July 1974.

(3) Carlos Tabernero, “‘The Freedom of All Living Creatures.’ Nature, Natural Sciences and the Image of Spain in the Work of Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente Arbor 192, no. 781 (2016): a345.

(4) Carlos Tabernero, “Wildlife Comics, or the Making of Young Naturalists”, Journal of Science Communication 21 no. 1 (2022): A05.

(5) M. Sierra, “El terror del lobo ha vuelto a nuestros pueblos.Alerta, 13 July 1974.

(6) Joan Senent-Josa, “El lobo y el Mercado Común”. Triunfo, 3 August 1974.

(7) Carlos Tabernero, “The Changing Nature of Modernization Discourses in Documentary Films”, Science in Context 31, no. 1 (2018): 61–83.

(8) Tico Medina, “Cuando baja el lobo. Los domingos de ABC, 22 September 1974; “El misterio del lobo asesino y el enigma del perro salvaje.Los domingos de ABC, 6 October 1974; “Habla el lobo.Los domingos de ABC, 13 October 1974.

(9) Ramón de Madariaga, “ADENA dice: menos daños y . . . menos ‘lobos’”, ABC, 1 November 1974.


This research was funded by the PID2019-106208GB-I00 (Urban Narratives about Nature: Contemporary Construction of Natural History Knowledge) grant of the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación.

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