Category Archives: Mammals of Spain

Cantabrian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) Oso Pardo Cantábrico

UPDATE 04/05/2021
  • The latest study titled Cantabrian bears. Demographics, coexistence and conservation challenges. has now been published and makes fascinating reading.

Cantabrian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) Oso Pardo Cantábrico is a flagship species of the Iberian fauna. As a key species situated at the apex of the food chain, it plays a crucial role in maintaining the functionality and diversity of the ecosystems it inhabits. Together with other flagship species, such as the wolf, Iberian lynx or Spanish ibex, the Cantabrian brown bear is an outstanding representative of the megafauna which has survived until today. They are the last witnesses of the numerous large mammals of the Pleistocene era, which have survived better in Spain than in the remainder of the Western European countries, contributing as part of the cultural heritage of the human societies alongside which they have coexisted for millennia.

The Cantabrian brown bear is a large carnivore and as such, invokes respect as well as fear amongst humans. These animals, at the same time as generating a degree of unrest among livestock farmers are also an emblematic species and indicators of the well conserved condition of the Cantabrian forests.

Guillermo Palomero, Fernando Ballesteros, Juan Carlos Blanco, José Vicente López-Bao (Editors)

Click the below link to download the publication in pdf format.

Cantabrian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) Oso Pardo Cantábrico

Special thanks for help with this original article about the Cantabrian Brown Bear go to Lisa Stuart who, together with Mike, runs a wonderful guesthouse in the Picos de Europa national park. They also organise outdoor activities and adventures in this stunning part of Spain

Ask Lisa about finding bears in the Picos de Europa.

Listed in the Spanish Catalogue of Endangered Species (Catálogo Nacional de Especies Amenazadas) as being in danger of extinction, the Cantabrian brown bear’s existence in Spain is not widely known.

Genetically different?

Cantabrian brown bears have developed a slightly different genetic identity to other brown bears, although not as different as was once believed. A study in 2007 led by mainly Spanish scientists hoping to prove the subspecies status of the Iberian bears, has revealed them instead to be more closely related to the European brown bear (in particular those of Southern Scandanavia) than was previously thought.
So rather than once being scientifically known as Ursus arctos pyrenaicus, they are now classed as simply Ursus arctos.

Hunted and persecuted

Having once roamed most of the mountains of the Iberian peninsular, the Cantabrian brown bear was seen by man to be competition for food and the population was reduced in the first half of the twentieth century to two isolated pockets in the northerly mountains of the Cordillera Cantábrica. Systematic persecution through hunting led to a drastic decline in numbers and a total ban on hunting did not come into force until 1973. The maximum fine for killing a bear in Spain is now €300,000.

Continue reading Cantabrian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) Oso Pardo Cantábrico

Egyptian mongoose – Herpestes ichneumon – Meloncillo

  • English: Egyptian mongoose or Ichneumon
  • Scientific: Herpestes ichneumon
  • Spanish: Meloncillo
  • French: Mangouste ichneumon
  • German: Ichneumon
  • Portugese: Sacarrabos, Saca-rabos, Icnêumone, Rato-de-faraó, Rato-do-egipto, Manguço, Escalavardo

The Egyptian mongoose – Herpestes ichneumon – Meloncillo is also known as the ichneumon and although it is thought to be introduced to the Iberian Peninsula its been here long enough, I think, to be called a native.

Found along the coastal regions of the Mediterranean between North Africa and Turkey and Africa, there are several hypotheses to explain the occurrence of the Egyptian mongoose in Iberia.

  • TraditionalIy, it was thought to have been introduced following the Muslim invasion in the 8th century.
  • Bones of Egyptian mongoose excavated in Spain were then radiocarbon dated to the first century leading to the theory that an introduction during the Roman Hispania era ocurred.
  • Other authors have proposed a natural colonisation of the Iberian Peninsula during the Pleistocene across a land bridge when sea levels were lower between Iberia and the nearby African land mass

With the last point in mind many authors consider the entire Iberian peninsular to be populated by the subspecies Herpestes ichneumon widdringtonii. It is distinguished from the populations in North Africa due to its somewhat larger size, darker color and much larger teeth

The Egyptian mongoose - Herpestes ichneumon - Meloncillo is also known as the ichneumon and although it is thought to be introduced to the Iberian Peninsula
The Egyptian mongoose – Herpestes ichneumon – Meloncillo – often seen crossing the road at dusk

The legend of the giant hairy serpent

For many years legends and rumors floated around in many areas of Spain about a “hairy snake like monster” (el serpiente peluda). Stories to frighten children before bedtime, I would think, but actually based on real sightings of real animals?

In the summer of 2021 I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time (without a camera sadly he sighs!) to witness a family of Egyptian mongooses crossing a road. Head to tail they went in size order with the male presumably first, then the female and 5 youngsters following. I could easily understand that in bad light and weather this blur of low moving fur, teeth and tail could produce such legends of marshland monsters!

The following video (in Spanish) is well worth watching to see the Egyptian mongoose – Herpestes ichneumon – Meloncillo in action. (The footage of the scared hunter is really funny when he thinks he has seen the serpiente peluda!)

Egyptian mongoose are opportunistic predators, feeding on small vertebrates including rodents, birds, reptiles, frogs and various invertebrates such as insects, snails, crabs, and worms. They also eat plant matter such as fruits and tubers.

In many areas the easy meal of a chicken or domestic rabbit is also on the menu and I feel that the Iberian fox very often gets the blame for the work of a hungry mongoose.

Further reading

Have a look at the cultural references on the wikipedia entry for the Egyptian mongoose – Herpestes ichneumon – Meloncillo…. it is quite interesting…. A Mongoose on a lead? 🙂

See the main mammals page for Spain here.

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Wild cat – Felis sylvestris sylvestris – Gato montes

  • Felis silvestris silvestris, Mostly in the north and centre of the Iberian Peninsula
  • Felis silvestris tartessia is found south of the Duero and Ebro rivers and along the mountainous mediterranean countryside. (It is slighter larger than F.s silvestris)
  • Felis lybica jordansi or the African mountain cat is present only on the island of Mallorca.
  • Protected in most European range countries. It is listed in CITES Appendix II, in Appendix II of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats and in the European Union’s Habitats and Species Directive

The Wild cat – Felis sylvestris sylvestris – Gato montes population in Spain is probably more abundant than we think but due to its elusive nature it is rarely seen and many people often confuse an average tabby cat for this wild cat if its seen up in the hills or away from human habitation. Especially, as its appearance is quite similar to that of a domestic cat but, remember, it has a much stronger build than most domesticated cat breeds. (Felis sylvestris catus).

The wildcat feeds on rabbits, rats, mice, lizards and insects such as grasshoppers, mantis and locust. From time to time, it also preys on small carnivores like martens, polecat, stoat and least weasel as well as very young fawns of red deer (Cervus elaphus), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra).

Identification of the Wild cat – Felis sylvestris sylvestris – Gato montes

If it looks like a tabby cat and you are up in the mountains away from towns and villages use the following to double check.

  • Yellowish brown color behind the ears.
  • Flat face, yellowish muzzle (there may be some whitish area).
  • Long, thick and drooping whiskers.
  • Greenish or amber eyes.
  • Pair of black stripes on each side of the face.
  • Four or more black stripes from head across to the shoulders.
  • A dorsal black line from nape of neck to base of tail.
  • Long bushy tail with two or three black rings and a large black tip
  • Sometimes a white spot on throat but not always!

There are three types of wildcat in Spain

Felis silvestris silvestris
Felis silvestris silvestris
Felis silvestris silvestris

The most common throughout the European continent and in Spain it usually inhabits the Central, North and Northwest of the Iberian peninsular. Its coat is dark gray with brown tones and with a brindle appearance. Their weight ranges between 3 and 6 kg, with the male being 20% ​​larger than the female.

Felis silvestris tartessia
Felis silvestris tartessia
Felis silvestris tartessia

Prefers to live in warmer areas, especially in the southern part of the Peninsula, taking advantage of the wide expanses of Mediterranean forest. Its size is slightly larger than Felis silvestris silvestris and the coat has much darker tones.

Felis lybica jordansi
Felis lybica jordansi
Felis lybica jordansi

Also known as the African wild cat or the desert cat, Felis lybica jordansi classified as a sub-species of felis silvestris silvestris and in Spain it is only present on the island of Mallorca and in some parts of the cities of Ceuta and Melilla in very small populations. It differs from the European wildcat by inconspicuous stripes on the nape and shoulders, a less sharply defined stripe across the spine and by the slender tail, which is cylindrical, less bushy and more tapering. Ears are normally tipped with a small tuft. Its fur is shorter than of the European wildcat, and it is considerably smaller

Threats to Wild cat – Felis sylvestris sylvestris – Gato montes

  • The population in Portugal and Spain is threatened by accidental hunting kills (they are shot by people mistaking them for feral cats.).
  • Interbreeding with feral and domestic cats.
  • Loss of habitat.

Images sourced from the nice article here in Spanish:

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23 Iberian lynx cubs born in breeding centers in 2021

Great news to hear that 23 Iberian lynx have been cubs born in 2021 at the breeding centers of El Acebuche, in the Doñana National Park (Huelva) and in Zarza de Granadilla (Cáceres).

Fifteen males and eight females in total with 10 males and 2 females born in four litters in the Zarza de Granadilla facilities and the remaining 11 cubs (5 males and 6 females) in the El Acebuche centre from four litters.

Since the creation of the captive breeding project, 238 Iberian lynx have been born in the centers of which 150 have been released in the different areas of the Iberian Peninsula where reintroduction and / or reinforcement actions of the species are being carried out.

To date, 238 specimens of Iberian lynx have been born in the breeding centres of El Acebuche and Zarza de Granadilla with 150 released in different areas of the Iberian Peninsula.
23 Iberian lynx cubs born in breeding centers in 2021. To date, 238 specimens of Iberian lynx have been born in the breeding centres of El Acebuche and Zarza de Granadilla with 150 released in different areas of the Iberian Peninsula.

An interesting feature during the early weeks of Iberian lynx litters is that they go through a phase of aggressive behavior with each other at around seven weeks of age in which the cubs establish their hierarchy based on aggressions that can sometimes can end with the death of one of them. The good news is that five of the eight litters have now passed this aggressive phase and the technicians of the centers are confident that the remaining three will also go through this phase without any issues.

The next phase in the lives of the cubs is to decide whether they remain in captivity as part of the breeding programme as reproducers or if they will be prepared for release into the wild.

In 2021, a total of 27 lynxes have been released within the Iberian Lynx breeding program with four individuals coming from El Acebuche and five from Granadilla. (The remaining from other breeding centres in both Spain and Portugal)

An all-time high for the species

As a result of joint efforts to conserve the Iberian lynx over the last 20 years, the most recent study shows that the lynx population in Spain and Portugal has reached an all-time high for the species with a count of 1,111 recorded in both Spain and Portugal (Iberian peninsular) according to the date from 2020. Remember that in 2002 fewer than 100 specimens were counted giving it the name of the “Most endangered feline in the world” so this recent news now places it as one of the most successful conservation programs for felines in the world.

Read more about the Iberian Lynx here:

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Iberian Wild Boar – Sus scofra – Jabali

  • Subspecies in Spain: Sus scofra castilianus (Thomas, 1912) and Sus scofra baeticus (Thomas, 1912)
  • Body length: 120 cm.
  • Tail length: 22cm.
  • Height at the withers: 65 cm.
  • Weight: Males between 70 and 90 kgs., Females between 40 and 65 kgs. Occasionally even 150 kgs.
  • Lifespan: 20 years recorded in captivity 8 to 12 years in the wild

Description and Habits

The Iberian Wild Boar – Sus scofra – Jabali is a medium-sized mammal with a large and elongated head and very small eyes. The neck is thick and the legs are very short, which further accentuates its plump body. The forequarters are bigger than the hindquarters which is unlike the domestic pig that has been bred to develop the rear of its body to be larger in order to reach the highest value in the meat market.

On the Iberian Peninsula there are two subspecies of Wild Boar – Sus scofra – Jabali that can be differentiated by their appearance (somewhat) and geographic location.

  • Sus scofra castilianus is distributed in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, it has a larger body size and a lighter and thicker more bristly coat
  • Sus scofra baeticus is distributed in the south of the Iberian Peninsula and is of smaller build with less hair but is much darker in colouration.

Although the wild boar has very poor eyesight its sense of smell is highly developed allowing it to detect food and danger very efficiently. Hearing is acute and this animal can pick up sounds that are imperceptible to the human ear.

Their hairs are thick and black, measuring between 10 and 13 cm at the withers and about 16 cm at the tip of the tail. The color of the coat or hair is very variable and ranges from grayish to dark black, through reddish and brown colors. The legs and the contour of the muzzle are blacker than the rest of the body. The mane (especially in males) runs along the back from the forehead and can be raised as an aggresive gesture or when the animal feels threatened.

The wild boar adapts to all types of habitats as long as it has shrub cover and a food supply, although it prefers places with high vegetation where it can camouflage itself and abundant water to drink and wallow in mud. Its favorite habitats are holm oaks and deciduous or mixed forest massifs but is also found in the Mediterranean scrub and more recently in marshes (Tablas de Daimel National Park) where it’s overpopulation in recent year has caused a decline in both rabbit populations and nesting aquatic birds.


The breeding season starts in November and carries on through December and this is the time whem males will fight ferrociously for the right to mate with a female sometimes inflicting terrible wounds on each other.

Gestation lasts around three months and between february and April, one to six young are born. Although it is normal for the wild boar to have just one litter per year it is possibly that some have two. (One in early spring and one in late autumn). After 3 months the young are pretty much independent of their mother and are feeding independently.

Baby wild boars are incredibly cute with their characteristic longitudinal stripes along the golden body. The stripes disappear after about 4 to 6 months and their fur darkens.

Iberian Wild Boar - Sus scofra - Jabali - Srtiped young
Iberian Wild Boar – Sus scofra – Jabali – Srtiped young

Becoming sexualy mature at a very young age (females from 8 to 20 months and males at 8 months), it is not unheard of for a sow to give birth to her first litter before she is a year old.

Feeding habits

Iberian Wild Boar – Sus scofra – Jabali is an omnivore that feeds on everything and anything it can find including roots, tubers, fruits and acorns as well as all kinds of vegetables, mushrooms, truffles, worms, insects, snails, reptiles, eggs, birds and rodents and carrion. The diet varies greatly depending on the geographic location and the season. (ie whats on offer at that time in that place)

Overpopulation and hunting

Apart from the Iberian Wolf there are no real natural predators of the Iberian Wild Boar and the human abandonment of many rural areas coupled with hunting bans in and around natural parks has caused a poulation explosion in Spain of this species.

It has been found in various studies that where the wild boar increases in population size, overall biodiversity decreases. (Even with its beneficial work of burying seeds and aeration of the earth by rooting taken into account.)

Many towns and cities across Spain are also populated by the Iberian Wild Boar including Murcia, Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid and almost all regions in Spain now have an emergency hunting policy in place (Including and especially inside the limits of many Natural Parks) in order to try and rebalance an already unbalanced eco system and habitat.

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Iberian red fox (Vulpes vulpes Silacea) Zorro

The Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a globally widespread mammal of opportunistic behaviour. In Spain we have the subspecies Iberian red Fox (Vulpes vulpes Silacea) Zorro in Spanish which is slightly smaller than its northern European counterparts. Foxes, in general, have an ability to adapt to different habitats as well as varied food supplies. This canine hunter / scavenger stands around 35 to 45cm high at the shoulder with a body length of between 60 to 80cm and a tail or brush of on average 35cm.

Iberian Fox (Vulpes vulpes Silacea) Zorro in Spanish
Iberian Fox (Vulpes vulpes Silacea) Zorro in Spanish

The colouration can vary greatly from a strong red to a sandy brown or brindled coat. The under jaw and chest are white. Some have a dorsal black stripe which can also drop onto the shoulders in a cross shape. The tip of the tail can either be white or black. In some areas of Spain, fox coloration is often described as black or silvery black which is most unlike the traditional “Red” fox of the United Kindom. The males are generally heavier in build than females

Diet and habits

A Fox’s diet includes insects, earthworms, mice, voles, rabbits, birds and their eggs, amphibians, reptiles and a variety of fruit. (Contrary to popular belief their favorite food is not chicken from the local farmyard). They are also scavengers, eating carrion and sorting through waste left by humans. An adult fox will typically consume between 0.5 and 1kg of food per day. Normally hunting alone, they use a strong sense of smell and acute hearing. If encountering more food than they need, foxes will very often bury the excess in scrapes that they make in the ground.

Foxes are most active at dusk, extending into the night – especially if near to human populations. The fox is territorial with the size of area depending on availability of food. The territory is marked using scent glands, faeces and urine and may be as large as 50 km², though it is much smaller if food is abundant.

Iberian Fox (Vulpes vulpes Silacea) Zorro in Spanish
Iberian Fox (Vulpes vulpes Silacea) Zorro in Spanish

Faecal marking is often visible on paths, raised on stones, plants and especially on junctions. There is normally one main den but there may be several smaller dens through their territory for food storage and emergency cover.


Mating occurs during the winter, from December to February depending on latitude, with gestation taking around 52 days. They can be monogamous or polygamous. Generally 4 to 6 cubs are tended by the female in the den with the male providing food for them all. The cubs open their eyes within two weeks and will begin exploring at five weeks. At ten weeks old they are fully weaned and will disperse to create their own territories in the autumn. The young Foxes are sexually mature at 10 months and can live for around 5 to 7 years.

Predators of the Iberian red fox (Vulpes vulpes Silacea) Zorro

The major predators of Foxes in Iberia are Golden eagle, Wolf, Lynx and of course Man. (The latter seems to have an unhealthy hatred for this creature for some reason). Both the Iberian Lynx and the Iberian Wolf will actively seek, hunt, attack and kill a fox simply to reduce rival predator numbers within their territory.

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