Master of rabbits, slave of rabbits. Live by rabbits, die by rabbits.
The very word ‘Spain’ derives from the Phoenician I-Shpania, meaning quite literally the Land of Rabbits. Here and only here is the European rabbit native, in the dry southwest of our continent, along with a bit of Morocco and Algeria. They have become so familiar on golf courses and road verges in Britain that few of us stop to question what a rabbit’s real land looks like.
Or realise that it might be collapsing towards extinction there.
Introduced diseases such as myxomatosis and RHD have decimated the rabbits of Iberia; habitat destruction and intensive hunting have also hurt them. And if the rabbit falls, it takes an entire ecosystem with it. The mighty imperial eagle and the outsize Iberian wildcat are amongst the carnivores dependent on rabbit.
So, above all, is the pardel lynx.
It’s overcast today. We spent the morning in the cobbled streets of Marmolejo, a little town with whitewashed walls and orange trees. The road into the mountains winds away north, flanked with wintry meadows and hillsides speckled with stone pine. Vultures cruise lazily overhead; here and there a hoopoe flies.
That is all forgotten when green eyes shine in the grass.
A pardel lynx!
I came to Andújar with the vague idea of huddling on a freezing hillside for hours – days – until I glimpsed one half a mile away with a spotting scope. And this cat poses like a lion!
I’ve crossed paths with 13 of the 40 or so species of wild cat. All are unique and precious; but this, the rarest of all, puts on the performance of a lifetime. For five hours we share his company. He sleeps, yawns, pads about and sleeps some more.
He is lucky; the Sierra Morena support the largest surviving population of pardel lynx. We have seen a few rabbits here, but fewer than I’d hoped.
And there’s question of where his cubs will live – crossing highways is dangerous. Andalucía asks anyone who finds a wounded lynx to report it to the mainstream emergency services; it has also undertaken an energetic programme of ‘watch out for lynx’ signs. I have been encouraged by the very positive local attitude towards the lynx. Reintroduction efforts have recently boosted their numbers elsewhere.
There are four species of lynx. The smallest is the bobcat, and the biggest by far is the northern or Eurasian lynx, the spotted ghost of the ancient European wildwood. I’ve tracked that species, occasionally, in the timeless primeval woods of Poland. But the pardel lynx has no such wilderness. The fact that its numbers are creeping upwards is testament to its willingness to live in the human shadow, along with the human desire to save it.
And its rabbits. There simply is no lynx without them.
Long may they both thrive in these mountains.
8 thoughts on “Spain: Land of the Lynx”
Adele, what an amazing animal! So beautiful! Great shots by the way! I doubt most people in Canada even know they exist! I haven’t seen one for years! But they are there!
Thanks Robin. Canadian lynx are right up there with fishers and wolverines as the hardest animals to see in BC, although I have seen a couple in the far north. You never forget that powerful eyeshine!
The pardel lynx is a completely separate species though and its entire global range is a handful of sites in Iberia. It’s smaller than the Canadian lynx and likes a more open habitat. But shares an interest in rabbits…
Thanks Eliza 🙂 This was a ‘once in a lifetime’ moment!
LikeLiked by 1 person
How big it actually is? From your photographs I can’t really tell but I would estimate about double the size of an average house cat. Impressive animal, like most of the cats 😀
Yes, double a large house cat, more or less. It’s about the size of a springer spaniel, but weighs less and has longer legs. They weigh 9 – 13kg, but can stand up to 70cm tall at the shoulders.
There’s nothing quite like the grace of a cat 🙂 They have such a swagger about them.
For the record, the Eurasian or northern lynx (the species native to the rest of Europe, as well as the UK and Russia) is about twice that weight, and hunts deer rather than rabbits.