Sierra Morena

Articles in ‘Sierra Morena’

Iberian lynx trip report

December 13th, 2010 Lovely trip report from the Sierra Morena in search of lynxes by my favourite Spanish nature blogger, Zona Osera.

The wolf child of the Sierra Morena

May 12th, 2010

I’ve just come across the remarkable true story of Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja, a boy who spent 12 years as a boy living with wolves in the Sierra de Cardeña in the Sierra Morena. His story is now being told in a new film entitled Entre lobos to be released in October.

Feralchildren.com have written this description of him:

Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja was born on the 7 May 1946, and remembers being taken away at the age of 7 by a man on a reddish horse. He believes he was sold or hired to tend goats, a not unusual arrangement for children of that age. It also wasn’t unusual for goatherds to live up on the mountains with their animals and only visit human habitation every few years.

Marcos Pantoja left on his own

Marcos worked with an old goatherd for possibly several months before the man died, but in that time he’d learnt to fend for himself in the mountains, looking after the herd of goats and ensuring they bred successfully. He made friends with wolves, and lived variously in a cave, an old hut, and a hut that he built himself.

I don’t have time to translate this at the moment but this description in El País of how he befriended the wolves is truly remarkable:

–Yo estaba preparado con el cuchillo. La carne que yo no quería se la llevaba a los lobillos. Los padres no me dejaban, pero como veían que yo les llevaba de comer, cogieron confianza. Yo olía como ellos. Cuando yo quería que vinieran, cuando me veía que no tenía salida, empezaba a aullar. Venían varios lobos y, como se daban cuenta de que estaba perdido, se tiraban a mí dando saltos y me cogían los brazos con la boca hasta que yo reía. Empezaban a jugar. Luego me señalaban el camino hasta la cueva de ellos y, desde allí, yo ya sabía irme. Me divertía yo solo con los animales.

Y se entendía con ellos. Con sus mismos sonidos. En cuanto uno menos se lo espera, Marcos, hoy, coge una hoja del suelo y se la pone en la boca. Pij, pij, pij… El ruido que hace el águila. Y también imita el de la perdiz macho. Y el de la perdiz hembra. Marcos era uno más en la naturaleza. “Dormía con la zorra. La zorra era la primera que se metía debajo de mis piernas cuando había tormenta o llovía”. También vivió un tiempo con una camada de ratones, a los que daba leche de cabra. Y siempre planeaba por allí algún águila, a la que le troceaba los conejos o perdices que atrapaba. “Ponía la presa en un plato de aquellos de corcho y más contentos… Acariciaba a las águilas, las besaba, y se iban más contentas…”. Janer, el antropólogo, analiza estos pasajes: “Marcos no inventa, pero cubre con la imaginación su necesidad de saberse querido por alguien”.

Lynx in the Sierra de Andújar

April 16th, 2009

Some stunning photos here of Iberian lynx in the wild in the Sierra de Andújar by Pete Oxford, who notes “I set myself up, not with the eco-tourists, but instead, on a private ranch owned by the Junta of Andalucia – prime lynx habitat and the center of a scientific conservation effort organized by LIFE.”
Wild Wonders of Europe

Latest lynx brief by Dan Ward

December 18th, 2008

Dan Ward has sent me his latest Lynx Brief, the essential periodic review in English of the state of the Iberian Lynx.

This issue looks at, among other topics, the international Iberian lynx seminar, current Iberian lynx numbers, plans for Iberian lynx reintroductions, inappropriate predator control, declines in wild rabbits and transparency of information in Castilla -La Mancha.

Some highlights which I have cropped from the original:

  • On lynx numbers As reported at the III International Seminar, Iberian Lynx recovery has continued well in the Sierra Morena area just north of Andújar, Andalucía, with 40 breeding females, 55 cubs born in 2008 and 150 individuals overall. This compares with 18 females, 22 cubs and 60 individuals in 2002….As a result of this increase, the lynx area in Andújar-Cardeña has probably reached its carrying capacity and thus could provide animals for future reintroductions elsewhere. This is an unexpected, welcome and important achievement, not least because it is generally preferable to reintroduce felines bred in the wild rather than those bred in captivity (if possible) because they are more likely to be fully adapted to living in the wild.
  • In addition to these in situ achievements in the Sierra Morena, the ex situ captive breeding programme has also progressed well, with 52 individuals, 24 of which were bred in captivity.
    Moreover, the ex situ population will also be able to provide 20 to 40 individuals per year for  reintroductions, from 2010. Finally, in Doñana, the lynx population seems to have remained steady in recent years, with around 50 individuals reported in total each year between 2002 and 2008. This is despite the loss of at least 9 individuals to Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) in 2007, thanks partly to the successful translocation of a breeding male lynx from Andújar-Cardeña to Doñana in December 2007
    (see LynxBrief no. 10 and 11). Moreover, a second lynx was successfully translocated into Doñana in November 2008.
  • On predator control Much of Spain and Portugal is used extensively for hunting, and this is especially true of current and potential lynx areas; e.g. 70% of Spain is covered by hunting estates (used by over 1 million registered hunters), and the majority of lynx living in the wild are situated in such estates. Moreover, techniques used by gamekeepers and landowners to kill, especially, rabbit and partridge predators have been strongly implicated in the past decline of the Iberian Lynx, and the on-going decline of many other species. For example, it is suspected that the 1990s extinction of the lynx population in Montes de Toledo, central Spain (where good habitat and rabbit populations remain) was due to the widespread use of leg traps and snares in the area.
  • On rabbits and lynx One of the key obstacles to reversing rabbit decline has been that rabbits, and rabbit conservation, in Spain and Portugal have not been given the profile and attention they deserve….Fortunately, this situation has recently changed. In Portugal in 2006, national authorities re-classified the European Rabbit as “Near Threatened”, and in Spain in 2007, the species was re-classified by national authorities as “Vulnerable”. Moreover, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) has also, just this year, re-classified the European Rabbit globally in its native range (Spain, Portugal and parts of north Africa) from “Least Concern” to “Near Threatened”.
  • Castilla – La Mancha and transparency a lack of transparency of information has also been a key obstacle to Iberian Lynx conservation in recent years. A very current example, discussed at the International Seminar, was the presence of lynx in Castilla – La Mancha….The Castilla – La Mancha authorities have argued that they cannot release the location of their lynx because they fear attracting too many nature watchers to these areas. However, the precise location of lynx in Andalucía has been widely publicised for many years without a detrimental impact from the public….It has been alleged that the real reason that the Castilla – La Mancha government do not want to publicise the location of their lynx is actually because they are reluctant to share knowledge (and thus power), or because of a fear on the part of landowners that public knowledge of lynx presence will increase pressure for restrictions on the current use of predator  control methods. Moreover, it has also been alleged that at least one of the locations of lynx in Castilla – La Mancha is a large estate bordering Andalucía, owned by a British Lord, who allegedly has considerable influence over local authorities.

Read the Lynx Brief 12

Photo from the Iberian lynx recovery programme.

61 lynx cubs born in Sierra Morena

November 10th, 2008

Good news for the Iberian lynx. According to the Andalusian government, 61 lynx cubs were born this year in Sierra Morena, beating the record in recent years of 2006. This is more evidence that the Life Project is working. The population of lynx in the Sierra Morena could now be as high as 180 including cubs, doubling the figure for 2002. This will allow more lynx to be transferred to Doñana to avoid endogamy in the population there (though other problems will have to be solved). The news was announced during the opening of the second Iberian lynx captive breeding centre La Olivilla in Jaén. The centre has a number of large breeding cages and bigger pens for hunting. Junta de Andalucia

The official figures for cubs born in the Sierra Morena on the last seven years are:

2002 24
2003 17
2004 31
2005 29
2006 57
2007 22
2008 61

It is estimated that around 40% of these will have died in their first year. Others may have dispersed to new areas such Castilla-La Mancha.

Iberian lynx watching

October 19th, 2008

Tembo over on the forum has posted an excellent trip report on watching Iberian lynx in the Sierra Morena with some detailed information on where to watch lynx. Highly recommeneded.

“The lynx is the definitely the name of the game in the Sierra de Andujar. There are road signs emblazoned with lynx every few kms reminding you to keep your speed down, many of the farms have plaques indicating that they have signed up to the lynx conservation program, and a number of the restaurants have pictures and information about the species.”

Castilla-La Mancha to breed lynx in Captivity

November 10th, 2007

The Junta de Castilla-La Mancha have announced that they are to open a breeding centre for Iberian lynx in the Parque Nacional de Cabañeros. Meanwhile, they have also released a photo of lynx they claim was taken in front of an automatic camera last Thursday and did not run although the the flash continued to fire. (El Pais) The Junta have also released figures for the population in CLM – 3 breeding females, 2 males, 4 sub-adults and 6 cubs. The lynxes are somewhere in Ciudad Real and may be animals which have dispersed from Sierra Morena in Andalucia, and perhaps mixed with a relict population in CLM. This would be very good news as it would mean that the Sierra Morena lynxes are expanding more than previously believed. 

Latest lynx population numbers

November 7th, 2007

The latest figures for Iberian lynx appear to be promising. There are now estimated to be between 200 and 250 individuals (including cubs) in Andalucia. 44 cubs were born this year in the two encalves of Sierra Morena and Doñana. Added to this is the possible existence (sorry, still need to be convinced on this) of a population in Castilla-La Mancha (CLM), made up of 15 animals (six cubs and nine adults). According to CLM authorities these lynxes were first detected in July 2002 and have since been “located” on 45 occasions. What is strange is that the official 2004 census ruled out the animal’s presence in CLM after 14,571 photo traps. If true, however, there are now between 215 and 265 Iberian lynx in Spain in the wild.

There are also now 37 individuals in the captive breeding centres which is to be increased to 60 breeding animals by 2010-, guaranteeing 85% of the genetic variability which existed in the wild in 2004. Some of these animals are to be sent to Portugal, Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha for their own breeding programmes. The Portuguese government has begun to build a centre in Algarve and hopes to release lynx into the wild in the Algarve by 2019.

Note: there is considerable skepticism, to say the least in the Spanish natural history community about the CLM lynxes because of the way the news was released, the weird videos and the lack of coordination. Here’s what some people on the linceforo are saying.

Photo from Lynx Recovery Programme

News briefs 2

October 27th, 2007

Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha and Andalucia are to have a single conservation programme for the lynx. (Terra). It seems utterly remarkable to me that they didn’t do this years ago. And still no more confirmation of the lynx in Castilla-La Mancha. What a strange story this is. The more and more people I talk to the more suspicious I become, but let us wait and see. Follow the forum thread for more on this or read the latest thoughts on the foro-linceiberico.

The population of wolves in Andalucia has “stabilized” at some 50 individuals in 6-9 groups, spread across the Sierra Morena (Sierra de Despeñaperros, Parque Natural Sierra de Andújar, Parque de Sierra Cardeña y Montoro and Parque Natural de Hornachuelos). The Andalusian government hope that there will be 200-300 wolves in the region with the next 15 years, which would provide a guarantee for the animal’s survival. Most of the wolves live in huge hunting estates with a very low human population. Wolves have been protected in Andalucia since 1986. (ABC)

Sierra Morena lynxes to be released in Doñana

September 20th, 2007

Three Iberian lynxes taken from Andújar in Sierra Morena are to be released in Doñana. Key to the transfer has been the control of feline leukemia within Doñana (Consumer). As far as I know this is the first time lynxes have been moved. It seems to me that before carrying out such drastic measures they should cut the number deaths of lynx in the Doñana, i.e. sort out the problem of traffic around the park first.