March 29th, 2011
I’ve been woefully neglecting this section of iberianature recently. Here are a couple of recent wildlife stories in the English press.
The Missing Lynx (The Guardian) Good article. “Ten years ago, there were barely 100 Iberian lynx left. But an innovative Spanish conservation programme is rescuing them from the edge of extinction”
And this story about ancient giant bunnies from Menorca reported in The Scientist
The skeletal remains of a 26-pound rabbit was found on an island off the coast of Spain. Dubbed the Minorcan King of the Rabbits, this ancient rabbit lived approximately three to five million years ago and now adds evidence to a curious rule concerning the evolution of animals in islands. The so-called “island rule” states that big animals will get smaller and small animals (such as rabbits) will get bigger when the population is isolated on an island, perhaps due to the lack of mainland predators. In this case, the King is a whopping six-times larger than living European rabbits, but due to a rigid spine and short legs, it was also unable to hop.
March 5th, 2008
Spanish researchers are currently testing a vaccine for rabbits against myxomatosis and haemorrhagic disease virus.
The rabbit, that most Spanish of animals, is a keystone species in Spain, forming an essential part of the food chain, and to a greater or lesser extent the basis of the diet for more than 40 species of mammals, birds and reptiles including the Iberian lynx, which is virtually dependant on it for survival. The arrival of myxomatosis in Spain in 1953 led to the decimation of rabbit populations with mortality rates of 95-100% in many areas, and the extinction of Iberian lynx across almost the whole Peninsula. It also had an unquantified but surely massive effect on other animals. Then, in the 1980s, just when the rabbit began to recover, a second rabbit-control disease, Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (vírica hemorrágica in Spanish), was unleashed on the planet. Its arrival in Spain, once again decimated rabbit numbers, and in many areas rabbits have yet to recover despite millions spent by government and hunting estates. Myxomatosis attacks in the summer and haemorrhagic disease virus attacks in the winter.
The Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria has been working for more than ten years to find a vaccine against both diseases. Based on this research, the Laboratorio Syva with the support of the Federación de Caza and the Fundación Biodiversidad have now developed a vaccine which with the final field tests still to be done seems to be efficient. It provides an interesting example of hunters and conservationists working together.
According to Luis Ignacio Pérez-Ordoyo of the Laboratorio Syva, “The vaccine has been developed from the myxomatosis virus into which is inserted the gene of a protein of vírica hemorrágica, thus obtaining a recombinable virus”.
The vaccine is inserted under a rabbit’s skin and then is transmitted to other rabbits by contact. There is no direct transmission to the foetus in pregnant females. Once EU and Spanish medical authorities give the go-ahead, it can be used with wild rabbits. Then, in theory, this harmless virus will spread among the population, so inoculating them. Researchers assure the virus has no negative effect on rabbits or their predators. Tests have been carried on European lynx with no adverse effects. The vaccine has a 100% effectiveness for one year. (Note, I’m unsure as to whether it is then necessary to re-vaccinate or whether the virus will naturally do this). The same researchers also note that it is also necessary to improve the habitat of rabbits in Spain so they can dig burrows and feed, and to repopulate some areas.
This vaccine could be have a huge effect on the recovery of the Iberian lynx. Rabbits could recover very quickly, as they breed, as it were, “like rabbits” with up 11 pregnancies a year, giving birth each time to 3-9 babies. (Publico)
See also More protection demanded for rabbit + Origin of words Spain, rabbit and coney + Iberian lynx (with section on the rabbit)
October 20th, 2007
WWF/Adena have demanded more protection for that most Spanish of animals the rabbit, due to its key role as a prey species for more than 40 mammals and birds, some of them like the lynx and the imperial eagle, seriously endangered. Myxomatosis and VIH have decimated rabbit populations across much of Spain and in some areas rabbits are a now a rare animal. It is estimated that rabbit numbers are barely 20% that of the pre-epidemic early 1950s, when the animal formed an essential part of the diet of many Spaniards, and when rabbit were alkmost certainly hunted far more. WWF/Adena are not asking for a ban on its hunting but rather for the hunting season to be moved as at present they are hunted in autumn and winter just before the start of their breeding season. They suggest that the hunting season be brought forward several months in line with the maximum yearly population level. It is beyond me why hunters would oppose such a measure, if indeed they do.
See also Origin of words Spain, rabbit and coney + Iberian lynx (with section on the rabbit)