Two of us (Geraldine and Clive) spent a few days in the stronghold of the world's most endangered cat - the Iberian Lynx Lynx pardina. This animal was familiar to us from the fossils we have excavated in prehistoric and medieval sites in Gibraltar and we had had a couple of close encounters with them in Donana in the 1990s. So we decided to travel up into the Sierra Morena north of Andujar to see if we could find old friends.
The habitat of the lynx can be described as open Mediterranean forest though we prefer to call it wooded savannah, a habitat that was typical of the emerged coastal shelf off Gibraltar for thousands of years. Here in Andujar, there are tens of thousands of hectares of this wild country, home of Spanish Imperial Eagles Aquila adalberti, Black Vultures Aegypius monachus and Black Storks Ciconia nigra.
Among the smaller species, Hoopoes Upupa epops (above) and Dartford Warblers Sylvia undata (below) are abundant and widespread.
Red-legged Partridges Alectoris rufa abound here too and are potential prey of the lynxes.
But it is the Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus that is the favoured prey, and there are lots in these hills.
For two days the lynxes were proving elusive, only distant views down the valley confirming their presence. But other predators of the rabbit made themselves visible. Geraldine took time to focus on a large adult Ladder Snake Elaphe scalaris
...and the mating dance of the Iberian Wall Lizards Podarcis hispanica.
As the sun started to go down on our last evening we turned our attention to the herds of Red Deer Cervus elaphus, not wanting to admit defeat to ourselves but knowing that there would have to be another time for the lynx.
Then, driving back with a wonderful evening light a movement caught our eyes as two lynxes wandered into Cistus scrub to our left. We saw them for a split second and they were gone! Fifty metres down we paused by a firebreak in hope as the animals had been moving in that direction. Five minutes went by and nothing. The light would soon fade. Then, out of the Cistus emerged a female with a yellow collar, barely 50 metres away! She sat down and waited for her one-year old cub who promptly sat close to her. Cameras were clicking frantically by then as the lynxes seemed more interested in some Magpies Pica pica than in us. This is what we got...
Collared female (left) and one-year old cub (right) with Magpie (middle ground) and Red Deer (background)!
Female (above) and cub (below)
Now the sun could set!
During our stay in these hills we stayed at Villa Matilde which we thouroughly recommend. Our hosts - Merche and Roland - are committed and knowledgeable conservationists. They took wonderful care of us and the evening meals were wonderful! On our return to Gibraltar an email from them confirmed than the collared female had been born in 2008 and was known by the name Elam...