Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Sierra Morena; Last Refuge of the Iberian Lynx

The dunes , scrub and pino pinyero ( Spanish pinyon pine) habitats of Doñana all seemed to be thriving after an exceptionally wet winter in Spain. In fact, it was harder to see birds since they could spread out so much. The Guadalquivir River delivers loads of sand and nutrients to he ocean here, forming the basis for the entire estuary.
Strawberry cultivation has converted some of the private land scrub habitat, but much of the "dehesa" (woodland) is providing a refuge in the Sierra Morena for the last stand of the Iberian Lynx. These mountains closely follow the 38th parallel across Andalucia from the west coast in Huelva to beyond Andújar.
. A tremendous amount of the landscape has cultivated olive trees (plus cork oaks) and areas managed for hunting grounds and raising pigs. Pata negra (black footed) pigs provide the finest ham in Spain. This is the watershed of the Guadalquivir River that passes by the ancient city of Cordoba (37°54').
North of Andújar (38°07'), we were fortunate to spend a day with German Garrote Alonso, of the Consejeria de Medio Ambiente; Junta de Andalucia ( environmental and conservation arm of the regional government). A half-million people were in this area on an annual pilgrimage just the day before. German works with the remaining wild Iberian Lynx population there and can individually recognize all of the animals older than a year, because he has photo points with motion-sensor cameras for every 100 hectares of the 2000 hectare project. Much effort has been put into expanding the rabbit population in this last stronghold of the wild lynx, which now number about 230. Rabbits are the main food source of the lynx and are critical to their survival. Disease has been decimating the rabbit population, dramatically impacting the lynx. It has not been easy to increase the rabbit population quickly, so instead relocation of wild lynx has occurred recently to expand their range. Of the 3 pairs relocated last December, one female has had 3 cubs and another is pregnant. We asked German what he would most like everyone to know about the lynx program.
His answer: "We have in our hands the power to restore the lynx-- they are flexible and will respond. They just need to have the chance with the protection of their habitat. In fact, since the lynx program began in 2003, numbers have increased by 40% in the wild". The area German showed us north of Andújar is one of the largest undeveloped areas in the country (really the first expansive, truly wild lands we've seen) and was at its spring best of flowery green.

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