Born from a natural desire to see and keep wild cats in the wild. But this is not just any wild cat, this is the rarest cat on earth. Elusive. Endangered. The Iberian lynx.
After studying this cat for some time and researching its behaviour and habitat... I decided to go on a quest. A quest to visit this beautiful animal in its natural environment. My objective.. to share and raise awareness. To show why we must preserve our wildlife and the magnificent landscapes that shape their lives. And lest we forget the other beings that co-habitat with the lynx. Ensuring a healthy, biologically diverse, ecosystem. Supported by one of the most attractive areas within the Mediterranean, Andalucia.
At dawn we were in the mountains. Sierra Morena Natural park. A vast, rugged, fertile terrain. The land of the Iberian lynx. Scattered forests of Holm Oaks and Umbrella pines. Misty mornings accompanied by the roaring calls of deer, evoking an eerie feeling of awe. The great guiding hands in the sky, gliding and soundless... the presence of the Spanish Imperial Eagle only fuelled my absolute pleasure to be amongst such grace. The mist lifted, enabling the first rays of light through. A Little Owl appeared outside of his den.. shaking feathers, one eye still asleep, the other wide and bright. It stretched out to catch the early, warming rays and was gently awakened by the new day.
We searched, watched and waited. The anticipation had an urgency within its grasp. Time was ticking but this place was timeless. Unspoiled, wild. It was beginning to feel familiar. I liked this feeling. This was a pure dose of nature. Infusing me with goodness.
|Spanish Imperial Eagle|
Only a century ago, lynx roamed throughout over half of the Iberian peninsula. Today their range has diminished considerably to just two isolated populations within Andalucia. The population is estimated to be fewer than one hundred and fifty adult individuals. There are various reasons adding to the demise of lynx numbers. Their favourite prey is rabbit. With myxomatosis decimating rabbits, times have been challenging. Then, as if that was not enough, viral hemorrhagic pneumonia wiped out most of the remaining bunnies. Habitat destruction and fragmentation caused by humans, has been devastating to lynx populations. Then, the rapid transformation from simple, rural economy to a developed one, has seen a movement in road construction and consequential road kills. This has been catastrophic to lynx communities.
In the rugged hills and mountains of the Sierra Morena some of the finest forests have been preserved. Mostly spacious, scattered Oaks, made up of Holm, Gall and Cork Oak. Although in meadows, glades and at the margins of rivers, Ash and Poplars are more frequent. The forest gives shelter to an abundance of wildlife. It is autumn and the animals are foraging. The scent of pine is intoxicating. In this region, wild animals thrive. As well as Iberian lynx, wolves, European otters, wild boar, mouflon (subspecies group of the wild sheep) and red deer can all be found.
|These ruins use to be an army training camp (seen on walk, between beetle and bats).|
|Greater Mouse Eared Bat|
Whipped cream clouds and layers of mountain terrain, softly lit by the early evening sun, which appeared behind a passing storm. The light began to fail... It was time for dinner.
The following morning we were out at first light. The mist still covering the mountain tops. The views were breathtaking. The search continued ... in the midst of looking for the elusive cat, many splendid sights were seen.
The land was rich with flora and fauna. The birds were plentiful and some very special appearances were made by Crag martins, Black vultures, kingfishers, Spanish imperial eagle, Griffin vulture, Great spotted woodpecker, kestrel and the strange... Short-toed Treecreeper.
|Pointing To The Monastery|
|"Territory Of The Iberian Lynx - Moderate Your Speed"|
|Typical view point for Lynx|
|Found Lynx Scats|
We were heading for El Rocio, Coto Doñana.
|Reserved For Horses|
The rain stopped. This felt like another dimension. Time, had most definitely forgotten this place. And, over-looking the magnificent view of wild horses and flamingos on the lagoon, I became enchanted...
The following morning after very strong coffee, cheese, ham, jam and toast... we were back out in the field. A place where I felt affiliated and free. Surrounded by untainted landscapes where scattered Pines and Oaks gave up their branches to many wonderful species.
Doñana National Park is situated in the provinces of Huelva and Seville. The marshes stretch out to The Guadalquivir River, which reaches The Atlantic Ocean. It was established as a nature reserve in 1969 due to its unique bio-diversity. The park features a variety of ecosystems and shelters an abundance of wildlife. Thousands of European and migratory birds, fallow deer, Spanish red deer, wild boars, European badgers, Egyptian mongooses and endangered species such as the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx roam and reside here.
The fog was dense and once more the eerie (not-so-distant) calls and roars of the stags were present. I could hardly see ten feet ahead. Visually impaired but senses and instinct on high amplification. Every part of my physical and mental self was on the case. Luckily, however, I was sitting in the front seat with the window down, and resting the elbows with lens on standby, when I noticed, a large mass of figure in a passage way, between hedges. "Stop", I whispered urgently. "Reverse slowly... gently, there. Stop". My heart was pumping but I felt a shift as calmness washed over me. A Stag. As large as life. He looked right at us and just stared.
|Stag In The Mist|
|Umbrella Pines In The Mist|
|Wall Of Wood|
The search continued...
We continued our search through open grasslands, Pine woodlands and heathland, encountering a grass snake and fresh paw prints belonging to a badger. It felt good, earthy and honest.
Rings of twig and logs had been created and built, like a wall, to give a (natural) helping-hand to the lynx. Rabbits were able to get inside the ring - but not out. The foxes (lynx's competitor for prey), had not figured out how to get to the rabbits, unlike the lynx. This human intervention has had a positive effect on the conservation of the lynx population.
|Buzzard on Pole|
Although I did not see the Lynx with my own eyes, the cat had been present. We had been in the heart of its world and shared intimate steps with those giant paws. The Iberian Lynx is indeed, an elusive, exceptional and unique cat. It is these very qualities that will ensure its survival.
I joined the rest of the group for a rich and nourishing last supper. We celebrated new friendships and new experiences, albeit a slightly different outcome.
May The Iberian Lynx continue to freely roam.
|Tree Of Life|
May the quest continue ...
PHOTO CREDITS -
Iberian Lynx by José Manuel Bernal.
Iberian Lynx by José Manuel Bernal.
All other photographs by Helen Ratcliff.
Special thanks to - Byron, Manu, Keith, Ron, Greg, Jan, Mike and José Manuel.
I travelled with; #Naturetrek - firstname.lastname@example.org / www.naturetrek.co.uk
Hotel los Piños
Carretera Santuario Virgen De La Cabeza, Km 14,2.-
C/ Plaza Acebuchal, 22
21750 El Rocío (Huelva)