Tag Archives: Mammals of Spain

Iberian Wolf (Canis lupus signatus) Lobo Ibérico

  • Spanish: Lobo
  • Catalan: Llop

The Iberian wolf, Canis Lupus, has suffered much persecution over the centuries. Already being eradicated from many countries and, despite a bounty on every head of a wolf during the 1950’s and 60’s. Some small populations of these mammals survived and now receive a partial protection especially when they reside in protected (natural and national park) areas of Spain.

Read about the recent hunting ban of the Iberian wolf over at the Iberia Nature Forum: https://iberianatureforum.com/forums/topic/iberian-wolf-hunting-ban/ Feel free to join in with the topics there! 🙂

Iberian wolf populations are mainly in scattered packs in the forests and plains of north-western Spain, the Sierra Morena in Andalusia and the north of Portugal also holds small numbers.

The Iberian wolf can reach a height of around 70cm and length of 120cm. The animal is different in colour from the Eurasian wolf by having dark markings on its forelegs, back and tail with white markings on its upper lips.

This is the reason for the last part of the scientific name, with signatus meaning “marked”. Males weigh around 40kg with females being of a finer / slimmer build.

Continue reading Iberian Wolf (Canis lupus signatus) Lobo Ibérico

Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) Lince Ibérico


Lynx pardinus (Felis pardina or pardinus, Felis lynx pardina, Lynx lynx pardina)… Too many names!

Once found throughout Spain and Portugal. the Iberian lynx began to decline in the first half of the 20th century due to over hunting and trapping for the fur trade. This decline was hugely accelerated after the 1950’s with the spread of myxomatosis. A disease which decimated populations of the European rabbit, the lynx’s main prey.

From the 1980’s the Iberian lynx was considered by IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) to be critically endangered and became known as the world’s most threatened cat species.

However, as a result of the increasing population size, the Iberian Lynx no longer qualifies for IUCN Critically Endangered status and is therefore listed as Endangered under criterion D. The improved status of this species is all due to various intensive and ongoing conservation programs.

Current populations and programs

Project LifeLynxConnect

The current official website (2020 to 2025) for the Iberian lynx conservation program is: https://lifelynxconnect.eu/

The latest population figures are 1111 Iberian lynx in the wild with about 150 in captive breeding programs…

There is a very good article here in Spanish detailing the distribution of the Iberian lynx: https://www.ellinceiberico.com/poblaciones-lince-iberico/

Keep up to date with news and information about the Iberian Lynx and other Iberian wildlife at the Iberia Nature Forum: https://iberianatureforum.com/

A bit of history about th Iberian lynx

Additional factors in the lynx’s decline include habitat loss (which affects both the lynx itself as well as its rabbit prey), illegal hunting, accidental killing by snares and poison baits set for other animals, and roadkill.

By 2000 it was considered to exist in a heavily fragmented population in which only two groups are large enough to have long-term prospects of genetic viability.

Habitat, description and life cycle

The Iberian Lynx prefers habitats of scrubland and open woods bordering onto pastures or clearings. Each lynx has its own individual area but a male may overlap into the territory of several females. A defended territory may vary from 4 to 20 km2 depending on food availability.

Continue reading Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) Lince Ibérico

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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