Wildlife returns to Western Iberia

May 8, 2012

Since the beginning of our work in Western Iberia last year, a lot of attention has been given to bringing back wildlife, including rewilding horses and bovines. To scale up the efforts in the Faia Brava Reserve in north-eastern Portugal, a 25,000 ha area along the Côa River has been selected for the return of Iberian ibex, red deer and roe deer.

Some 20 hunting associations have been partners in discussions, and many of them welcome the comeback of larger species. An expert study is underway to map out the next steps, guided by Carlos Fonseca at the University of Aveiro.

An environmental impact study has already been completed In Campanarios de Azaba in Spain for the release of red deer. 12-13 km of temporary fencing will be set up beforehand, and local hunting associations are welcome to participate in surrounding areas.

Together with the Taurus Foundation, we have selected the best available breeds of primitive forms of cattle and horses. In May, the first Sayaguese cattle and Garrano horses will run free in Campanarios de Azaba, to be followed by Retuerta horses from the Coto Doñana National Park.

The first Marones cattle are planned to be released by Associação Transumância e Natureza NGO (ATN) in Faia Brava, Portugal, in the autumn. The 300 ha release area will be surrounded by a semi-permeable fence, allowing smaller wildlife species to come and go as they please.

Wildlife watching opportunities are created in both Portugal and Spain, not only as vulture feeding facilities but also for people to enjoy other birds and mammals as well. We are trying to involve professional tour operators in Faia Brava. In December 2011, Conservation Capital assisted Fundación Naturaleza y Hombre (FNYH) in Spain and ATN in Portugal to identify potential conservation enterprise opportunities for future development and investments (e.g. Wildlife Safari Lodge, Villa Rental).

In Portugal, land abandonment is in the spotlight once again, as there are two million hectares of land across the country with owners passed away without any identified heir.

ATN has invited representatives of the government, scientific institutions, and hunters and farmers associations to a Rewilding Seminar in June to present different opportunities to make good use of abandoned land, including the development of conservation enterprises, reducing the impact of forest fires through establishing natural grazing systems with wild herbivores, etc. Through a member of ATN, a pilot is already underway to create a market for local products from Faia Brava and Campanarios de Azaba in the Netherlands, to be followed by the development of a regional brand and an invitation for other producers to join.

With the current number around 340, the Iberian Lynx population has tripled in ten years, since the beginning of concerted efforts to help this critically endangered species. The cat specialist group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature is now considering re-classifying the Iberian lynx as “endangered”.

The conservation community in Iberia is now looking into ways of relocating wild animals and/or reintroducing captive bred individuals to other parts of Spain and Portugal. This could also reduce the risk of unexpected problems – like diseases – with basically only two core populations in Sierra Morena and Coto Donaña.

So there is hope to bring back the lynx to Western Iberia sooner than expected. As a sign of good intentions, the Ministry of Environment has accepted an invitation by FNYH to visit Campanarios de Azaba later this spring to discuss the lynx situation.

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