Lynx, wild horses and vultures return to eastern Spain in latest rewilding project | Re-wild
Black vultures, lynxes and wild horses are among the animals reintroduced to eastern Spain with the launch of a rewilding project covering 850,000 hectares (2.1 million acres) in the Iberian highlands east of Madrid.
Rewilding Europe’s 20-year landscape recovery programme, which covers an area more than five times the size of Greater London, aims to make the land wilder and more nature-friendly. The protected area is the southern part of the Iberian Range, a mountain range that stretches 500 km (300 miles) from the northwest of the country to the Mediterranean in the southeast.
It is a landscape of canyons and valleys, dominated by forests of pines, oaks and junipers, as well as steppes and agricultural areas. Following decades of land abandonment as people moved to cities, it is one of the least populated areas in Europe; since the 1950s, populations in many places have more than halved. Therefore, species such as deer, ibex and wild boar have already started to return.
“There are less than about two people per square kilometer, which makes it very special because you can see nature in a different way,” said Pablo Schapira, team leader at Rewilding Spain, one of the organizations at the head of the project. “It’s very rare to find this kind of places in Europe.”
The Iberian Highlands Rewilding Landscape project – located approximately two hours drive from Madrid and two and a half hours from Valencia – is the 10th project undertaken by Rewilding Europe and the first in Spain. “These towns have a lot of people looking for special places to see nature, so the tourism potential of this area is huge,” Schapira said.
Already, a herd of “tauros” – cattle bred to fulfill the ecological role of the aurochs, an ancient and now extinct wild bovine species – has been released near Frias de Albarracín. Elsewhere, 11 semi-wild horses were released this summer near Mazarete, with the first foal born in July, and further releases are planned this year.
Up to 15 black vultures will be introduced each year, following the release of the first batch at Alto Tajo in September. Cinereous vultures, also known as black vultures or black vultures, are one of the largest birds of prey in the world, with a wingspan of over 3 meters (10 feet). All the birds were tagged with GPS transmitters so scientists could track their movements.
Bearded Vultures are encouraged to recolonize naturally by improving their habitats. Vultures of this species are called quebrantahuesos – or bone breakers – because they drop bones from great heights to penetrate the marrow inside. Red kites could also be released. The area is already home to a number of raptors, including golden eagles, Egyptian vultures, griffon vultures and eagle owls.
The Iberian lynx will be released in a year or two, with three or four animals initially released. Twenty years ago they were the most endangered cats in the world, with less than 100 survivors, but there are now over 1,000 in Spain and Portugal after a number of successful European projects. There are no plans to reintroduce wolves, as locals fear they will kill livestock.
The Iberian Highlands Project includes three core areas – the Serranía de Cuenca, the Alto Tajo and the Montes Universales. More than half of the landscape is already protected, mostly as EU Natura 2000 network sites, meaning it has been named as one of the most valuable for wildlife.
The project has secured three years of funding, with a budget of between €800,000 (£690,000) and €900,000 a year, and its organizers hope to secure more in the coming months. Conservationists have been working with local organizations such as Terra Naturalis, Asociación Nacional Micorriza and FIRE (the International Foundation for Ecosystem Restoration) since September 2019 to prepare for the launch.
David Thomas, director of the Threatened Landscapes Programme, which contributed $1.5m (£1.3m), said: “By starting a bottom-up process for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems in this landscape, we believe the project has the potential to benefit both nature and people.
The project aims to create incentives to protect old-growth forests that are logged, primarily for biomass. The loss of people in this area has led to economic stagnation, and one of the project’s goals is to create opportunities for sustainable nature-based tourism and counter the risk of mining, logging and hunting, including the third is likely to be what prevents the Iberian wolf from naturally recolonizing the area.
The ninth project to be added to Rewilding Europe’s portfolio was the Affric Highlands initiative in Scotland, the organization’s first in the UK. Other projects include rewilding in the Carpathian Mountains of southern Romania, the Velebit Mountains in Croatia, the Central Apennines in Italy and the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria.