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Wildlife in Spain

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Welcome to Wildlife in Spain!

Spain is such an exciting and vibrant country in the world, often associated with delicious food, stunning beaches, architecture, and vivacious culture. Wildlife in Spain is something more discrete and in the background.

Horse riding at sunset in Spain
Horse riding at sunset in Spain

This blog is going to highlight and show appreciation towards the beautiful wildlife in Spain. Enjoy!

#1 Iberian Lynx

Iberian Lynx

The Iberian lynx is currently the world’s most endangered feline species. However, conservation measures have seen its population inch above 400 in recent times.

The conservation effort taken to prevent the Iberian Lynx’s extinction has paid out, and from a shrinking population of less than 100 individuals in 2002, now 404 cats live in the Mediterranean forests of the Iberian Peninsula. A new ambitious conservation project, LIFE Iberlince, is recovering some of the lynx’s lost territories in Spain and Portugal.

The Iberian lynx is heavily spotted and weighs about half as much as the Eurasian species, with long legs and a very short tail with a black tip. Its coat is tawny with dark spots and it bears a characteristic “beard” around its face and prominent black ear tufts.

Female lynxes generally give birth between March and April. The average litter size is 3, with rarely more than 2 young surviving weaning. Kittens leave the den between 8 and 23 months. Very high rates of mortality during dispersal have been detected.

The Iberian lynx mostly depends on wild rabbits to feed, but it will also eat ducks, young deer and partridges if rabbit densities are low. While an adult lynx needs about one rabbit a day, a mother raising her young needs to catch about 3. In the early 19th century the Iberian lynx was found in Spain, Portugal and Southern France. It declined steadily during the 20th century, and at the beginning of the 2000s only two isolated breeding populations remained in the world, located in southern Spain, and totaling about 100 adult animals, with only 25 breeding females.

But after joint efforts of the Spanish national and regional administrations, different NGOs (like WWF) and the European Union (via the Life projects), the species has recovered from the brink of extinction.

IUCN’s assessment in 2015 has downgraded the Iberian Lynx to “endangered”, due to the increase in mature individuals from 2002. The 2014 census shows 327 individuals in the strongholds of the species in Andalucia, and since the summer of 2014 around 50 lynxes have been introduced in the LIFE Iberlince reintroduction areas: Sierra Morena and Montes de Toledo in Castilla-La Mancha (Spain), the Matachel Valley in Extremadura (Spain), and Guadiana Valley in Portugal.

Sibrian Lynx

The reintroduced lynxes come from the Iberian Lynx Ex-situ Conservation Programme, which is still running and contributing to the future of this endangered species: 53 cubs were born in 2015. And the latest 2015 census shows 404 adult lynxes. Despite these signs of hope, crucial challenges remain unsolved, and the species future is still fragile. The Iberian lynx has been brought to the brink of extinction because of a combination of threats:

Decreasing food base: Rabbits form the main prey of the Iberian lynx. Epidemics, such as myxamatosis and the haemorrhagic disease, have affected rabbit populations over the years, which has in turn affected the Iberian lynx population. WWF is calling the spanish authorities to escalate efforts to recover rabbit populations.

Car hits: The construction of high speed roads and highways, splitting up the Lynx habitat, is another of the main threats for this wild cat.

2014 was a black year: 22 animals died under the wheels of a car. A very high number, given the small population of the species. After a WWF campaign, the spanish national and regional authorities are starting to take preventive measures on the roads.

Habitat loss and degradation: Infrastructures like roads, dams, railways and other human activities contribute to the loss and fragmentation of the Iberian lynx distribution area, creating barriers between the different populations.

The expanding road network has also led to more fatalities on the roads. It is thought that between 1960 and 1990, the Iberian lynx suffered an 80% loss in its range.

Illegal Hunting: Ironically, in the past the species was regarded both as an attractive hunting trophy and as a vermin. Hunters prized its valuable fur and its meat, and although some landowners appreciate its tendency to keep fox and rabbit numbers down, most perceive it as a threat to their game populations.

The Iberian lynx was legally protected against hunting from the early 1970s, but they are still the victims of guns, traps and snares, particularly those set for other animals.

#2 Spanish Ibex

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Spanish ibexes are strong mountainous animals characterized by their large and flexible hooves and short legs. Due to these physical adaptations, ibexes are able to run and leap on bare, rocky, rough, and steep slopes. These animals are usually brownish to grayish in color. Males are greater in size and weight and also have larger horns than the females.

Spanish ibexes are found along the Spanish Iberian Peninsula and have even migrated and settled into the coast of Portugal. These animals live in rocky habitats and prefer areas with cliffs scattered with scrub, coniferous trees or deciduous trees.

Spanish ibexes are social creatures and most of the year males and females live in separate groups. Kids usually travel in the center of adult females groups for better protection. Mixed groups are common during the rutting season and the rest of the winter. Spanish ibexes are diurnal and often live near human settlements. They have a unique way of signaling others about a predator. First, the ibex will have an erect posture with its ears and head pointing in the direction of the potential predator.

The caller will then signal the other ibexes in the group with one or more alarm calls. Once the group has heard the alarm calls, they will flee to another area like a rocky slope where the predator cannot reach. Ibexes usually flee in a very coordinated fashion that is led by an experienced adult female in female-juvenile groups and an experienced male in male-only groups.

Spanish ibexes are herbivorous (folivorous) animals. They feed on forbs, grasses, and acorns from Holm oaks.

Spanish ibexes are polygynous breeders. During the rutting season that takes place in November-December, males compete to mate with females by head butting. The gestation period lasts around 161-168 days after which females give birth to 1 or 2 kids.

During the birth season, the yearling are separated from the female groups at the time of the new births. The males are the first to separate and return to their male-only groups while the female yearlings eventually return to their mothers and spend their next few years with the group. Females reach reproductive maturity when they are around 1,5 years old, while males are ready to breed at the age of 3 years.

Hunting pressure, agricultural development, and habitat deterioration are the main threats due to which the populations of Spanish ibexes have decreased significantly over the last centuries. Future threats to these animals include population overabundance, disease, and potential competition with domestic livestock and other ungulates, along with the negative effects of human disturbance through tourism and hunting.

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of Spanish ibexes is around 50,000 individuals.

There are estimated populations of the species in the following areas: Sierra Nevada – 16,000 individuals; Sierra de Gredos – 8,000 individuals; Maestrazgo – 7,000 individuals; Serranía de Ronda and Sierras de Grazalema – 4,000 individuals; Puertos de Tortosa y Beceite Natural Park – 4,000 individuals; Cazorla – 2,500 individuals; Sierra Tejeda y Almijara – 2,500 individuals; Sierras de Antequera – 2,000 individuals; Sierra Morena – 2,000 individuals and Muela de Córtes – 1,500 individuals. In 2003 the Portuguese population included around 75 individuals.

Currently, Spanish ibexes are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are increasing.

#3 Great Bustard

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The Great bustard is a member of the bustard family and the only member in the genus Otis. One of the heaviest birds alive today that can fly, it is found across Europe. Huge, robust but stately looking, adult males have a bulging neck and a heavy chest, with a characteristically cocked tail.

The breeding plumage of males includes white moustachial whiskers that are 20cm long, and their back and tail become more vividly colored. They develop a band of feathers on their breast and lower neck that are russet colored, becoming brighter and wider as they get older. These birds walk with an upright stance, and fly with powerful and regular wing beats.

Great bustards are endemic to central and southern Europe, where they are the largest bird species, and across temperate Asia. In Europe, populations are mainly resident, while Asian birds travel further south in winter. This species inhabits grassland, steppe, and open, agricultural land. They favor regions for breeding with little or no presence by humans.

These birds are diurnal, and, among vertebrates, have one of the greatest differences in size between the sexes. For this reason, males and females live in separate groups for almost the whole year, except during the mating season. This size difference also affects food requirements as well as breeding, dispersal and migratory behaviors. Females tend to flock together with individuals who are related.

They are more philopatric and gregarious than males, and will often remain at their natal area for their entire life. In winter, males establish a group hierarchy, engaging in violent, prolonged fights, stabbing the head and neck of other males, sometimes causing serious injury, behavior which is typical of bustards. Some populations of Great bustards are migratory, gathering at pre-migratory sites in great numbers in order to collectively move to winter grounds.

The Great bustard is omnivorous, it eats vegetation such as grass, legumes, crucifers, grains, flowers and grapes. It also eats rodents, the chicks of other species, earthworms, butterflies, large insects and larvae. Lizards and amphibians are also eaten, depending on the season.

These birds are polygynous, and one male may mate with as many as five females. The males perform spectacular courtship displays, competing in a lekking system, where they gather at a ‘lek’ or small display ground to try to impress the females. The breeding season is in March, and eggs are laid in May-June, depending on the region. Nests are usually close to leks.

2-3 eggs are laid and the female on her own incubates them for about 25 days to a month. Chicks are precocial and can immediately leave the nest. Their mother raises them and they fledge at around 30-35 days. They do not reach full size until 80 to 120 days old, and for about ten months are dependent on their mother. This species suffers from the fragmentation and loss of its habitat.

Increasing land privatization and human disturbance is expected to cause more habitat loss with the plowing of grasslands, afforestation, intensive agriculture, increased use of irrigation schemes, and construction of power lines, roads, fencing and ditches. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides, mechanization, fire and predation are major threats for the chicks and juveniles, while hunting of adult birds causes high mortality in some countries where they live.

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Great bustard is around 44,000-57,000 individuals. Currently this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) and its numbers today are decreasing.

Wildlife in Spain: Eurasian Beaver

The Eurasian Beaver is found in habitats like Woodlands, slow moving river valley bottoms and floodplains. They are large rodent with robust body, short neck and limbs.With large, flattened, scale-covered tail and webbed hindfeet. Distinct from smaller coypu and muskrat due to shape of tail.

Large incisor teeth covered in orange enamel. They are typically between the size 74-90cm; tail length 28.5-38cm; hindfeet length 16-18cm.
and a Weight of 12.5-38kg. The beaver’s average lifespan is 7-8 years and is known to be up to 25 years in the wild!

Once deemed extinct in Great Britain but there have been reintroductions in certain areas including Scotland, Devon, Cornwall and Kent. However, they are found in Europe, and Spain alike. This beavers diet consists of: Rhizomes, pond weeds, grasses, water lilies, ferns and leaves in summer. Bark from aspen, willow, poplar and alder in winter. Caches food on bottom of watercourse near lodge in winter in harsh environments.

They tend to use natural holes or burrow into the bank. Entrance below water level, leading to a nest chamber. Bank burrows normally 1.5-2m high above the entrance. When burrows and bank lodges are unavailable true lodges are constructed entirely from woody debris, soil and twigs.

They are commonly found in small family groups comprise of a monogamous adult pair, young-of-year and sometimes young of the previous year. Group sizes increase with population density. Territory size varies with habitat, density and season. Generally 3km but can vary from 0.5-12.8km.

Predators include the Europe include wolves, wolverine, lynx and red foxes!

Monogamous breeding takes place between December and April. Pregnancy lasts 103-108 days. Litter size between 1-6 young between May and June. Individuals are sexually mature at 2 years old, but unlikely to breed successfully until they reach 3 years old.

Conservation Status: The Eurasian beaver is deemed by the IUCN as endangered in Scotland and not assessed in the rest of Great Britain.

Since the recent reintroductions the population numbers are rising with the Mammal Society’s study in 2018 indicating there are now 168 individuals.

Current threats are due to socio-economic interests as beavers can drastically alter the rivers they live in, which can result in land belonging to farmers flooding and causing crops to fail.

Summary of Wildlife in Spain

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Wildlife in Spain is stunning and diverse. One cannot ignore the threats that these native species are under and we must always be conscious of conservation efforts happening!

If you found this particular blog interesting, you may enjoy reading about Wildlife in Greece, or Wildlife in Germany.

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