Lost mammals at the National Park

  • 23 April 2020 |
  • Written by  Fernando Horcajada

We currently have 252 inventoried vertebrates’ species at ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ National Park and its Peripheral Protection Area of which there are 61 mammals, 134 birds, 15 amphibians, 24 reptiles and 18 fishes. Venturing exact numbers in this kind of lists is always risky and, depending on which group is assessed, the job could become impossible. With birds, for example, it is easy to err as that class gathers nesting species and over-wintering ones, passing birds, sporadic species or individuals from releases, generating a complicated numerical scenario.

With amphibians and reptiles it is easier; there are less species involved and they do not move much, although with fishes things get complicated again; firstly, they live under water and secondly they suffer a great deal from illegal non native species’ releases, hindering the creation of a reliable index.

However, in this article, we want to focus on mammals. Although the presence of the 61 inventoried mammals at the National Park is quite certain, our attention has been caught by the numerous citations of species no longer present, which have disappeared, apparently, in recent years. We are not referring to historic quotes from thousands of years ago, but to existing reliable sources which revealed the disappearance of, at least, six mammal species between the nineteenth and twentieth’s centuries inside the National Park’s territory.

There are many texts more or less related to mammals’ distribution for the last two centuries from which two stand out: “Fauna mastodológica iberica” by Mariano de la Paz Graells, published in 1897, a year before his death, where he describes the mammals present in the Iberian Peninsula in early nineteenth century; and the other “Fauna Ibérica. Mamíferos” by Ángel Cabrera Latorre whose taxonomic advances are currently in force, providing precise information about the distribution of species in late nineteenth century. Ángel Cabrera conveys in his book that until Mariano de la Paz Graells’ published work, mammals’ natural history did not start to be taken seriously in Spain.

In the nineteenth century, other works are published, such as Geographic-Statistical Dictionaries by Sebastián de Miñano or by Pascual Madoz, which, though in a more general sense, provide valuable information related to fauna’s presence in different Spanish locations. Later on, in the twentieth century, Ángel Cabrera and other European zoologists, would push mammal’s knowledge in the Iberian Peninsula forward.

It could be established, after revising the descriptions and studies of all these zoologists and historians, that from early nineteenth century to the nineties decade in the twentieth century, six mammals’ species cited in the current territory of the National Park, have disappeared.

Hence, we should revise, in chronological order, the history of these species for the last two hundred years as well as today’s perspective of what could be called the six lost mammals of ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ National Park.

Firstly, the bear: with this species we are entering a scabrous terrain. Although most of the references of this species go back to the fourteenth century, with the description of its presence at Lozoya Valley and Manzanares El Real from ‘El libro de la montería’ we have dared to include this magnificent carnivore in our list of lost mammals, thanks to some historical citations during the last decades of the eighteenth century….Antonio Ponz generally cites the animal in Valsain’s forests and he does not exclude him from Rascafría Area, by 1790. Decades later, Miñano and Madoz do not considered it as nominally extinct in the same mountainous territories (Piñeiro Maceiras, 2010). Recovery possibilities for this species are very remote and though the Managerial Plan of Spanish National Parks’ Network specifies that ‘the reintroduction of any native taxon which has disappeared in historic times should be ensured’ the absence of an adequate habitat and the rejection of big carnivores from part of the society, makes it impossible to carry out any proposal in that sense. The closest wild population is located in Palencia’s mountain range.

Secondly, the Egyptian mongoose: although it is a species currently occupying the southwestern Iberian Peninsula, and whose movement towards the centre of Spain might be due to climate change processes, it is certain that there is indisputable proof of its historical presence in the majority of Spain. Supposedly, this mongoose species was brought to Europe during the Moorish’s conquest of the Iberian Peninsula; however, recent genetic studies have determined that there is substantial differentiation between the Iberian population and the North African one, suggesting they might have crossed Gibraltar Strait during the Pleistocene’s sea fluctuations ruling out human intervention. Cabrera cited its presence almost everywhere in his ‘Fauna Ibérica’ establishing taxonomic differences between Africa and Spain’s populations and discarding Moorish intervention in the species’ expansion. Last citations at Guadarrama are prior to 1910 (Delibes, 1982), and, thus, the species would have disappeared from the National Park’s territory by late nineteenth century. At present, the closest population dwells at the southern part of Madrid, and by observing its expansion dynamics for the last decades, it seems that the Egyptian mongoose will most likely return to the Park’s southern areas.

Thirdly, the Red deer: its population is abundant in Spain, as it is a highly appreciated species for hunting, subject to repopulation in many areas of the Peninsula. By early twentieth century, its individuals were relegated to a few settlements in ‘Montes de Toledo’, ‘Sierra Morena’ and ‘Bética’ mountain ranges. In fact, Graells mentioned that he hunts it in the early nineteenth century at ‘Guadarrama’ mountain range even though it is less abundant than the fallow deer. Cabrera, by late nineteenth century, considered it extinct in Central Spain, explaining that it was only present at enclosed areas from Madrid and Segovia, reduced to Royal Hunting Reserves such as ‘El Pardo’ and ‘Riofrío’. It seems obvious, thus, that its disappearance at ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ might have occurred by late nineteenth century. Nowadays, several restocking actions have taken place at fenced hunting reserves close to the Peripheral Protection Area, which makes this species’ reappearance in the Park’s inventory very plausible in the near future.

In fourth place, the fallow deer: its native condition in the Iberian Peninsula has always been questioned, as it happens with the Egyptian mongoose as well. The truth is that in prehistoric times it was the most common ungulate at the National Park, as it can be proven by the ancient remains discovered at ‘Cueva del Camino’ in Pinilla del Valle. In the Iberian Peninsula its presence was ascertained in Roman times (Davis y MacKinnon, 2009), so its native nature is well deserved. There are several citations about its presence in ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ during the Middle Ages, especially in Valsaín, as told by Henry IV’s Chronicles. Graells hunted it by early nineteenth century, although Cabrera, half a century ahead, considered it extinct in the centre of Spain. Apparently, the fallow deer disappeared along with the red deer by late nineteenth century at the National Park. Nowadays, wild populations closer to the park are located in the forest surrounding Riofrío Palace, and it does not seem possible for them to colonise the park’s territory on their own.

In fifth place, the Iberian lynx: it is well known that the Iberian lynx is one of the most threatened species in the world and currently, there are several Recovery Action Plans, mainly in Andalucía and Castilla la Mancha, being carried out. Its population was abundant in historical times and its distribution spread almost to the south of France, where it coexisted with the Eurasian lynx. Graells spots it in ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ mountain range and Cabrera confirms its abundance by late nineteenth century. Through the examination of specimens from collections, it has been proven that by 1940 there were 15 Iberian lynx populations in the Iberian Peninsula, one of which dwelled at ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ mountain range (Gil-Sánchez y McCain, 2011), so, in consequence, its disappearance in the National Park might have taken place during the last half of the twentieth century. The closest population to the National Park would be located in ‘Montes de Toledo’ mountain range, although there is strong evidence of it being located in western areas of Comunidad de Madrid, so the species could be recovered at the Park’s piedmont areas.

086 02 Lince CabreraIberian Lynx, also known as gato clavo, lobo cerval o lubicán. Image from Ángel Cabrera. ‘Fauna ibérica: mamíferos’. National Natural Science Museum. Madrid. 1914.

And finally, the Pyrenean desman: it is an Iberian endemism whose distribution splits up among the northern Iberian mountain ranges, even reaching the French Pyrenees. Graells captures it by late nineteenth century in Lozoya Valley from ‘Peñalara’ Lake to Buitrago. By the last half of the twentieth century, the population starts decreasing at an unprecedented rate, not only in ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ but in every Central Spain mountain range. The last evidence of its presence here is dated in 1990, located in ‘Peñalara’ Lake’s stream.

We are currently carrying out several Recovery Projects on the species, as well as actions for the eradication of the American mink’s population, one of the main reasons for its disappearance. At present, the closest population is located in Tiétar Valley.

Even though this list ends with a missing species for more than three decades which we are hoping to recover, we cannot forget that the other five, at some point, over the last two hundred years, used to dwell here, and despite moral obligation to recover these species removed by human hand, establishes an out-of -reach goal, for the moment, we can, at least, silenced our conscience by including them in the mammals’ inventory of the National Park, in which they deserved to be included in their own right.

 

086 01 desmanPyrenean desman (above) and Iberian lynx (opening line). Graells, M. de la Paz. 1897 "Fauna mastodológica ibérica". Royal Academy of Exact Sciences, Physics and Natural Science. Madrid. Report 17: 1-806.

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