Tag Archives: Mammals of Spain

The Red Deer

  • Spanish: Ciervo
  • Scientific: Cervus elaphus hispanicus
  • English: Red Deer
  • French: Cerf élaphe
  • German: Rothirsch
  • Italian: Cervo nobile
  • Portugese: Veado


The red deer is A large mammal with a robust body, fine head and long legs. The males measure around 90 – 120cm (3ft-3’11”) at the shoulder and the females 90 – 110cm (3ft-3’7”). Only the males have antlers and these are replaced each year. Their general body colour is brown with greyish tones, the belly and beneath their short tail is much paler.

The Red deer has a fragmented distribution throughout much of Europe, Asia and North America. The 27 or so subspecies have each developed different characteristics. In Iberia there is a subspecies, Cervus elaphus hispanicus, which has a smaller head, more grey colouring and finer dimensions than in Central European variations.

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The Stone Marten

  • Scientific: Martes foina
  • Spanish: Garduña
  • Catalan: Fagina
  • Portuguese: Fuinha

The Stone Marten (also known as Beech marten) is a mammal of the Mustelidae family, it is around 12cms high at the shoulder with a long slim body of between 40 to 55cms with the bushy tail adding another 22 to 30cms. The main colouring is brown with the legs a darker shade and the chest and throat an obvious contrasting white, often dividing onto the top of the forelegs. The ears are short, upright and rounded, while the face and snout are steeply sloped.

This species of marten ranges throughout Iberia and much of Europe and central Asia.

These secretive mammals are territorial, defending a range of up to 10km from other males, active at dusk and night time. They are solitary other than in the breeding season, resting in a selection of places including under rocks, in tree hollows or in quiet barns and other buildings.

Beech martens prefer open deciduous forest and rocky outcrops in mountainous habitats, but will live in a variety of habitats including woodland, rocky scrub or urban areas as long as there is sufficient cover. They can also be found in mountainous zones to 4000m in summer.

They are able to climb trees making good use of their claws but are more terrestrial than their close cousins the Pine marten (Martes martes).

Stone martens are omnivores and their diet includes smaller mammals, eggs, birds, small rabbits, earthworms and fruit. The food supply can alter with latitude whereby small rodents, fruit and insects are more abundant to northern examples with fruit, reptiles and insects available to the southern inhabitants. The wild fruit includes rose hips and juniper berries as well as taking cultivated fruit from orchards.

Mating takes place during the summer but the female delays implantation for several months ensuring that the young are born the following spring. Gestation takes 56 days with, on average, 3 to 4 young born in March to July using a nest prepared and lined with grasses and moss. The young are blind and hairless at birth. Weaning occurs after 8 weeks with the mother and young remaining together through the summer while she teaches them to hunt. They reach sexual maturity from a minimum of 18 months. The maximum life expectancy in the wild is 10 years, with the average being much less.

Those that prey on the stone marten are wild cat (Felis silvestris), wolf (Canis lupus), fox (Vulpes vulpes), golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) and eagle owls (Bubo bubo).

At one point their skins were sought after but the current danger is more through habitat destruction. Also secondary poisoning may occur if they eat rats and mice that have consumed bait.

Further reading at wikipedia (especially the description of the difference between the stone and pine marten.) Above photo also from Wikipedia

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Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) Lince Ibérico


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

The Iberian lynx is considered by IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) to be critically endangered and is the world’s most threatened cat species.

Formerly found throughout Spain and Portugal. Although it began to decline in the first half of the 20th century due to over hunting, the decline was hugely accelerated after the 1950’s due to the spread of myxomatosis. A disease which decimated populations of the European rabbit, the lynx’s main prey.

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.

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Iberian Wolf (Canis lupus signatus) Lobo Ibérico

  • Spanish: Lobo
  • Catalan: Llop

The Iberian wolf, Canis Lupus, has suffered much persecution over 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) area of Spain.

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.

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Cantabrian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) Oso Pardo Cantábrico

Special thanks for help with this 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.

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