During the last few decades, I have been photographing most of the big cats in the wild in Africa, Asia and South America as well as some smaller wild cats in Africa. But, in the last year I focused my attention on a smaller wild cat living in the South of Spain, the Iberian Lynx.
This beautiful specimen of the smaller wild cat family of Lynx is one of four species – Bobcat, Canadian Lynx, Eurasian Lynx and Iberian Lynx. In the 19th Century its habitat was spread over Spain, Portugal and parts of Southern France. The main food of the cat is the rabbit. But unfortunately, in the mid 20th Century, the rabbit population declined due to a disease resulting in the decline of the number of Iberian Lynx, while a similar thing happened in the 1980’s reducing the numbers of both rabbits and Lynx even further. These setbacks led to a reduction in the Iberian Lynx population in the world to a two-digit figure below 100. The surviving cats were confined only to the South of Spain. It was the world’s most endangered cat in 2002. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) together with their partners have managed to increase the numbers from less than 100 in 2002 to over 550 today, in the areas where its used to live. Andujar in the province of Jaen in Spain has the most number of Iberian Lynx existing today.
In June 2017, I visited Andujar to photograph the Lynx, but had no success even after spending four full days of which two days was in a hideout located on a private property. I found that was not the best time to spot this cat as they don’t venture out much during day time in the hot summer months. I was told that the best period to see Lynx is in the winter season, especially the month of January when they come out from the bush cover to mate.
As planned I visited Andujar from 9th to 21st January 2018. On the first two days, I was at the same property as the one I visited last year in search of the Lynx. I stayed at two different hideouts from 9am till 5pm without any luck. On the third day, at last I had the first sighting of a Lynx but at a distance through the binoculars in a public area named “Lalancha”, half way from the Lodge where I stayed and the private property where the hideouts were situated. The average weight of a male is 15kgs while the female is 10kgs. Hence, sighting of a Lynx at far through the naked eye when compared to sighting of a Leopard of an average weight of 45kgs, is very difficult. Many visitors at the public area used the Spotting Scope to search for the cat in the valley of the pubic facility from the road.
On the following day, I had a chance to photograph a mating pair in the same valley, but they were too far to get a clear image. From then on till the 18th, I spent most of my time in the public area, but the sightings were at far. On the 18th, I was once again at a hideout, but at a different location, at an estate known as Barranco de Los Chopos, with a land area of 1,000 hectares, located close to the lodge. This time, my target was for the Spanish Imperial Eagle, a threatened species of eagle native to the Iberian Peninsula. A dead rabbit was hung on a tree near to the hideout by our guide Luis, to attract the predator. Although, I spent eight hours inside the hide, with the guide together with Paul, a photographer from Holland, we were only able to photograph a Goshawk, instead of the Imperial Eagle.
On the 19th I spent the whole day with another guide Miguel, an assistant of Luis, driving inside the Los Chopos estate in search of the Lynx, the “Spanish Tiger”. The property has plenty of Oak Trees of Cork, Holm and Portuguese varieties. These trees create a home for rabbits since the branches of the pruned Oak trees which lie on the ground provide a good cover for them. That afternoon, we had a glimpse of the cat on one occasion and later returned to the lodge without any further luck.
It was at around 5pm on the 20th with Miguel at the wheel, driving on a narrow road in a hilly rocky area of the same property, with oak trees on either side when my eyes focused on an object that appeared to be a cat, at a distance of 30 to 40 meters on my side of the vehicle, in an open area. The excitement mounted as Miguel quickly reversed the vehicle and confirmed it was a Lynx, looking at us. My camera was in action immediately. Within minutes, after staring at us, the cat moved away, and to our delight a female from the bushes followed the male. The adult male I spotted is similar in size compared to a four month old Tiger cub. No wonder it is called the Spanish Tiger!
On my last day in Andujar, we went to the same private estate again, but the land was covered with fog. However, while driving on a gravel road on a valley within the property, Miguel spotted a female Lynx together with a cub of nine months in front of the road. I couldn’t take clear images due to the fog. Later, they moved away from our sight. That was a bonus sighting for me before my departure from Andujar.
That afternoon, I was driven to the Madrid airport, four hours by car. I returned to Colombo on the 22nd evening.