Iberian Lynx

Spain – Reasons to be Cheerful!

Niki WilliamsonBy Niki Williamson
20th June 2020

Niki is a Naturetrek tour leader and lives in Southern Spain, where she works full time as a wildlife guide.

At the time of writing, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has just announced plans to reopen Spain for tourism from 1st July, placing a strong emphasis not just on health and safety, but also on sustainability. Sanchez has lofty ambitions; he wants travellers to see the country as “the safest and most environmentally-sustainable tourist destination in the world.” With well over a quarter of its beautiful and diverse countryside being part of a vast network of protected areas, Spain is one of our most popular overseas destinations and, as we begin to emerge from lockdown, we anticipate that Spain could play host to some of our first overseas wildlife tours. Here are five reasons to feel positive about Iberian wildlife!

1. Egyptian Vultures buck the trend

With its starkly-contrasting wing pattern and yolk-coloured face, this unmistakable bird must surely be one of the world’s most eyecatching scavengers. It is both intelligent and loyal, using pebbles to break eggs, sticks to wind wool, and remains faithful to partner and nest site over long periods. Yet, across Europe, over 50% of the population has been lost in the last five decades. In Spain, however, dedicated conservation efforts to tackle the most serious and immediate threats to the species – particularly accidental poisoning, powerline collisions and wind turbine strikes – have led to a reversal of this decline. The latest SEO (Spanish Ornithological Society) census shows a population upturn from 1,200 pairs in 2008 to 1,500 in 2018 – an astonishing 25% increase. The best places in which to see Egyptian Vultures on our Naturetrek holidays in Spain include Extremadura, the Picos de Europa and the Pyrenees. 

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The Spanish Pyrenees

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Spain's Picos de Europa Mountains

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Go Slow ... in Extremadura

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2. Iberian Lynx bounds back from near-extinction

The Iberian Lynx is an exquisite cat, so it’s no surprise that it was once highly prized as a trophy. Then, when disease all but wiped out the Rabbit – the Lynx’s main prey – from the Spanish countryside, their numbers plummeted further. Worse, many of the few remaining cats were now dying on Spain’s new EU-funded roads, and the species’ last strongholds were increasingly hemmed in both by these and an everexpanding noose of giant greenhouses, rice paddies and strawberry plantations. In 2002, the Iberian Lynx gained the dubious honour of being the world’s most endangered cat, with just 94 left in the wild, living in two isolated pockets in the Coto Doñana and the Sierra de Andújar, both in Andalucía. Now, thanks to intensive captive breeding and reintroduction programmes, public awareness initiatives and conservation partnerships, the population numbers a much healthier 686 and thrives across Andalucía, Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura and southern Portugal. They have even been sighted in Madrid and, extraordinarily, on the outskirts of Barcelona! This is one of European wildlife’s biggest recent success stories, and, having been the tour operator to first pioneer Lynx-watching in Spain in 2006, you can join us on our 6-day ‘Realm of the Iberian Lynx’ holiday in Andalucía each autumn and winter, safe in the knowledge that our experience is second to none. Alternatively, you might wish to book a special wildlife photography hide as part of a bespoke itinerary arranged for you by our Naturetrek Tailormade team.

Realm of the Iberian Lynx
An exciting 6-day holiday to the last refuge of the critically endangered Iberian Lynx ...

3. Punk is not dead!

When the global population of the Northern Bald Ibis dwindled to just 59 pairs in 1996, it was one of the world’s most endangered birds and one could be forgiven for thinking that we had trulyseen the ‘last of the Mohicans’. Still critically endangered with only around 1,000 birds in the wild, numbers are, however, increasing and there is room for cautious optimism, due in part to the success of reintroduction projects such as the one near to Vejer de la Frontera in Andalucía. Since the project’s inception in 2004, the colony has grown to around 80 birds and, happily for us, around ten pairs of these endearing, characterful birds are nesting on cliffs right next to a car park! The colony is still growing and small groups are now regularly seen setting off to explore, looking for new places to breed. Last year a group headed north, and perhaps one day they will colonise the cliffs of Extremadura. The following Naturetrek tours all take in the Bald Ibis spectacle. 

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4. The Wolves of Rural Spain

Since the late 20th century, Spain has seen a mass migration of its rural population into its cities – a remarkable depopulation of its rural areas as Spaniards, particularly the younger generation, have abandoned traditional country life for urban living. The land they have left behind, though, is fast being reclaimed by nature, resulting in a landscape unseen for centuries. Although this can cause both social and environmental problems, if managed well it can lead to extraordinary results for wildlife. For example, Spain’s forests have tripled in area since 1900, and continue to grow by 96,000 hectares every year. The Iberian Wolf is another major winner. Between 2,000 and 3,000 now thrive, free from persecution, in the hills of northern Spain, up from an all-time low of just 500 individuals in 1970. We’ve been taking groups to watch Wolves in Spain since 2006, initially in the Sierra de la Culebra and now in Montaña Palentina, where our unique tour operates from a lovely rustic base in the style of a house party, with wonderful hosts and the chance to encounter Cantabrian Brown Bear, Wildcat, raptors and woodpeckers, as well as the star attraction – the Iberian Wolf.

Wolf-watching in Spain
A 5-day holiday to a little-known and very rural corner of northern Spain in search of Wolves! ...

5. Return of the King

The Spanish Imperial Eagle is as iconic as it is stunning, and is considered by many to be Spain’s national bird. Endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, it was critically endangered in the 1960s when its numbers had dwindled to just 30 pairs – one of the rarest birds of prey in the world. The reasons then still remain painfully familiar to us today – poisoning, powerline collision and habitat fragmentation and degradation amongst them. Like the Iberian Lynx, its ill-fortune has also been bound to that of its primary prey item, the Rabbit, the population of which has been decimated by myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease in recent decades, leaving a dearth of prey in the countryside. Yet, once again Spain has turned it around, increasing numbers to over 300 pairs through intensive threat management and reintroduction. Those who know Spain may well be familiar with that iconic silhouette on the rocks of Extremadura or the treetops or pylons of Coto Doñana, but it’s now possible to see these magnificent eagles soaring free across the farmlands of Andalucía and beyond. Arguably, the best tour on which to see them is our ‘Coto Doñana & Extremadura’ tour each spring.

Spain's Coto Donana & Extremadura
A 9-day birdwatching tour to Spain's southern wetlands and the bird-rich steppes of Extremadura ...
The fight for our planet’s future is a difficult and complicated one, but in Spain we can take heart from the fact that nature is winning many small battles. At Naturetrek, we have a long affinity with Iberia; we are aficionados of the sweeping vistas, sunny climate, delicious food and wine, and welcoming hosts. When it’s possible to safely do so, please do join us on our unrivalled selection of wildlife holidays to Spain. A team of mostly locally-based, bi-lingual, friendly and passionate guides and hosts await you! With new-found backing for a rejuvenated countryside from the nation’s Prime Minister no less, there’s never been a better time to come and support it.
For further details on all of our tours to Spain please call Andy Tucker on 01962 733051 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.