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Spanish badgers

badger : tejón ( Meles meles ); teixó (Catalan); teixugo; (Gallego) azkonarra (Euskera)

Badgers are found throughout mainland Spain from the green forests of the Cantabrica to the semi-desert scrubs of Almeria , but are absent from the Canaries and the Balearics. Although not generally considered a high-montane animal, they have been detected as high as 2300m in La Cerdanya in the Catalan Pyrenees. Though not uncommon, badger populations are not as dense in Spain as they are, for example, in the UK , which has possibly the highest concentrations in the world, and hence such a strong place in British folklore.. This is partly because of the relative scarcity of protein-rich earthworms. (see below) Average badger densities vary depending on who you read: Purroy y Varela in ‘Mamiferos de España' reckon on 1-2 badgers per square kilometre across Spain, while the encyclopaedic Juan Carlos Blanco in his ‘Mamiferos de España' says the density of 0.5 badgers in Doñana is far above the national average. By way of comparison, Britain supports 4.4 to 20 individuals! Whatever the case, they are possibly higher concentrations in the north of Spain and certainly much lower ones in the drier south-east. They are not generally considered an urban species, though they are certainly, for example present on the city limits of Barcelona in Collserola. With the relative scarcity of earthworms, Spanish badgers will take anything they come across from snakes to blackberries, though when earthworms are present, they feature strongly on the menu. Beetles are a common intake. The great Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente mentions in Fauna Ibérica a badger killed by a car in Santander with 600 beetles dissolving in its stomach, while badgers down in Doñana have a liking for young rabbits.

The 19th naturalist, Mariano de la Paz Graells, classified the Spanish badger as a smaller and lighter sub species, marianensis , though this is not accepted by all researchers . The Latin name for badger meles , appears to come from its prediction for honey. This is reflected in a number of regional names in Spain (e.g. melandro in Asturias and melón in Aragón (see below). Iberian badgers don't hibernate, although to the north they can grow rather lethargic during the winter months. Badger meat was until recently eaten in parts of Spain , and as everywhere its fur was used for shaving brushes. These days its main threats are snares, often put out for foxes, and traffic. Though not specifically protected outside parks, it is in fact an offense to kill a badger in Spain as only animals on the official hunting list can be shot. Spanish badger populations are thought to be declining, though adequate data to support this appears to be thin on the ground. Despite the huge list of regional names (see below), the animal is relatively unknown and almost absent from cultural references, unlike, say, the fox, the wolf, the boar and the bear.

An interesting piece of research on badgers was published in Conservation Biology (Feb. 2001), noting

 “Reserves can threaten wildlife by attracting poachers”, that “ Doñana National Park is such a draw to poachers that there are fewer badgers just inside the reserve than in the area just outside it”. Poachers are lured by “the abundance of fearless game (deer and wild boars) attracts poachers who also kill non-game species incidentally. This could devastate badgers and other carnivores because they require large habitats and live at low densities.”

Badgers within the core area of the reserve were unaffected by poachers, and had benefited from protection. See more Research abstracts on badgers in Spain below

A tejonera is a set. An escarvadura is its scratching place.

Badger eaten by wolf
I took these wolf watching in the Sierra de la Culebra. More here

A badger’s pawprint

And nearby two badger’s claws (I think) found in a wolf excrement. Badger is not a common prey for wolves as it will fight to the end and there are few citations in the Spanish literature. Maybe it was carrion.

Research abstracts on badgers in Spain

Virgos,E.; Casanovas, J. G..

Badger Meles meles sett site selection in low density Mediterranean areas of central Spain

Acta Theriologica 44: 173-182
We studied the habitat selection of badgers Meles meles (Linnaeus, 1758) in a mountainous area of central Spain through badger sett location, in relation to a series of variables related to the micro and macrohabitat structure considered potentially important for habitat requirements (food and shelter) were choosen. The analysis was carried out using the Savage index (W) for use/availability data. Badgers in this area prefer mid-elevation mountain areas, where both dehesas (open woods with pastures) and pine forests prevail. Lower elevation areas were avoided. Badgers are associated with watercourses, but we found, no significant differences for distance to villages or for roughness. Badgers preferred trees and rock covered areas, which provided shelter places. Badger conservation in Mediterranean mountains requires mosaic habitats (dehesas). The low density that has been found could be due both to human factors (eg persecution and habitat loss) and to a probable low suitability value of Mediterranean environments for the badger.

Are habitat generalists affected by forest fragmentation? A test with Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) in coarse-grained fragmented landscapes of central Spain


Journal of Zoology 258: 313-318
This study assesses the pattern of occurrence of a generalist species, the Eurasian badger Metes metes, in forest fragments located in agricultural landscapes of central Spain with a coarse-grained pattern of fragmentation (< 20% forest cover in the landscape). Four forest regions (n = 139 forest fragments) were sampled. Badger presence/absence in forest fragments was studied in relation to: forest size, isolation and vegetation structure. Badgers were tested to see if, despite their habitat generalism, they were negatively affected by forest fragmentation in this type of fragmented landscape. Results indicated a strong and significant effect of fragment size on badger occurrence (presence was rare in forest fragments < 100 ha) and an important effect of isolation at a local scale. The response of badgers to forest fragmentation in Spain is quite different to the response in other European landscapes. In Spain, badgers cope with a divided coarse-grained landscape where suitable habitats are embedded in a largely unsuitable matrix (cereal croplands). In contrast, in Britain or central Europe, badgers may be benefited by forest clearances in a heterogeneous but non-divided landscape where small woodlots are separated by a matrix of good quality (mainly pastures) and fragmentation produces fine-grained mosaic landscapes where food and den sites are simultaneously enhanced. Species' response to forest fragmentation may strongly depend on the pattern of fragmentation and, in coarse-grained fragmented landscapes, generalist species may be affected in the same way as specialist ones.
Emilio Virgós Jorge G. Casanovas

Environmental constraints at the edge of a species distribution, the Eurasian badger (Meles meles L.): a biogeographic approach


Journal of Biogeography
Volume 26 Issue 3

Location We sampled twenty-four survey plots randomly distributed in the mountains of central Spain (Sierra de Guadarrama, Madrid):

Results The results indicate that the badger is more abundant in rainy areas of the mountains, and in open landscapes vegetated by ash-tree forests than in closed landscapes vegetated by holm oak forests. In addition, the species is more abundant in the northern plots than in the southern ones. Northern plots were homogeneous areas characterized by their open landscape and wet climate, while southern plots were characterized by their dry climate and closed landscapes. In addition, climate (measured as summer rain) is more determinant than habitat type (holm oak cover) to explain the pattern of badger occurrence.

Main conclusions Overall, we consider that the typical Mediterranean landscapes are poor habitats for badgers due to changes in the environmental conditions associated with concomitant changes in food resources. These data support the niche hypothesis to explain the changes in abundance or occurrence close to the edge of the distribution of species, and in particular, in Palearctic species in the Mediterranean area.

Eloy Revilla and Francisco Palomares

Differences in key habitat use between dominant and subordinate animals: intraterritorial dominance payoffs in Eurasian badgers?


Can. J. Zool./Rev. can. zool. 79(1): 165-170

Group-living territorial animals such as the Eurasian badger, Meles meles L., face the problem of intragroup competition. Badgers are asymmetric in their access to reproduction (dominant individuals being the ones that reproduce), but little information exists about the extent of intragroup trophic competition. We studied badgers' use of a key trophic resource (the European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus), as well as the use of the habitat where this resource is located (key habitat, Mediterranean scrubland) by a low-density group-living population of badgers in Coto del Rey, Doñana, southwestern Spain. During 1995–1996, there was a 2.2-fold reduction of rabbit density, which was reflected in a significant diminution of rabbit use; despite this, rabbits continued to be the most used trophic resource. Notwithstanding the decrease in rabbit density, subordinate badgers reduced their use of the key habitat, while dominant badgers increased it. These results suggest that in Coto del Rey, badger groups exhibit a fully despotic system, with dominance by some individuals not only in access to reproduction, but also in access to food through unequal use of the key habitat that contains it.

Revilla, E.

The social organisation of Eurasian badgers in Spain. 


Mammal Review 30: 231

Complete article here (English pdf)

Most of the information regarding badger social organisation comes from high density populations, where groups of badgers share territory and a communal den. Group living in those areas has been interpreted inside the Resource Dispersion Hypothesis: spatial patchiness of key resources force primary animals to establish at an oversized territory which let additional individuals to stay, at low cost for the primary owner. I have studied badger social organisation at two different low density populations in SW Spain. Territories were between 1 and 10 km2, depending on territory quality. One of the populations lived in groups, where only an adult female bred, while the other was formed by a couple of a female and a male sharing the same territory. Territory size is marked by the energetic requirements of breeding females during the season of trophic stress, while males try to maximize their access to females. Group living is dependent on the seasonal overabundance of profitable prey, such as young rabbits and fruits. Dispersal at the group living population occurred during the mating season.
Revilla, E., F. Palomares & M. Delibes

Defining key habitats for low density populations of Eurasian badgers in Mediterranean environments.


Biological Conservation 95: 269-277

Complete article here (English pdf)
Populations of Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) living in Mediterranean ecosystems are of conservation concern. Deciduous forests are considered the main habitats of these badger populations in mountains, but key habitats for badgers have not been distinguished in Mediterranean lowlands. We provide a quantitative analysis of the overall habitat selection and preferences of Eurasian badgers in a Mediterranean area (Doñana, SW Spain). Data on 17 radiomarked animals in a rabbit-based population and three animals from another population with no single staple food were analysed by compositional analysis for determining selection and preference order, and Jacobs' index for absolute preference/avoidance. Results indicate that, in the rabbit-based area, badgers preferred well-preserved Mediterranean scrubland at every level of the analysis. In the area where badgers had no staple food there was no clear pattern. Rabbit abundance explained a significant amount of variance of the Jacobs' index in the rabbit-based area at all levels of the analysis. It is concluded that badgers are selecting those habitat types which hold key resources, such us food or shelter. Thus, not only deciduous forest and associated pastures, but also scrubland holding healthy rabbit populations are key habitats for Mediterranean badgers living in the Iberian peninsula