Tuesday, 1 December 2015


I've been in Doñana now for almost a week. That's almost a week with no lynx. The four days I spent here with my dear friends DTH and Roger were dogged (emphatically not catted) by bad luck and we saw little (if black and white storks, cranes, booted eagles, Spanish imperial eagle, white-headed duck, bluethroats, penduline tits, griffon vultures and a locally very rare red-breasted flycatcher can be described as little). In the two days since our Naturetrek group arrived we have worked very hard, spending long hours in the field from dawn until dusk, seeing nothing, Nothing, at least, with ear-tufts and black-lined lamb chop whiskers.

This morning we broke from protocol, deviated from our itinerary (nature tour-leading bad boys that we are), taking a risk and visiting Doñana again, instead of heading to the mountains. As we crossed the park boundary, our first vehicle, driven by our talented local guide José Manuel, sped up. In our vehicle, driven by my friend of many years Byron Palacios, we did the same. A lynx slipped at speed through distant tamarisks, bearing in its mouth a rabbit. Through the park fence it wove with its prey and was gone. Our front vehicle had seen it briefly but well. Our second, with Byron and me, had seen it briefly and not at all well. One client quietly said that she had seen that it wasn't a wild boar. When clients can only say that rare target animals weren't boar, leaders' hearts sink.

So I'd glimpsed a damp lynx in the dew and the dawn. José Manuel, who knows these lynxes as almost no-one else, decided we would leave him (him: it was a two-year-old male known as Jasper) to eat his rabbit. So we left and followed the same sandy figures of eight through the park, one vehicle elated, the other trying to be.

We came back and saw nothing, peering in hope into every bush. As we moved again José Manuel stopped and waved frantically to our vehicle. There in the open at the edge of a tamarisk clump, just a few metres from us, was Jasper, fastidiously licking his paws. He licked and he shook and he looked directly at us, his olive eyes staring from his strange, whiskered face. Then he walked, left flank towards us, into the scrub, his short tuft of a tail lost last among the tamarisk,

For the rest of the morning, on our bad-boy last stand in Doñana, we watched cranes and crested larks, zitting cisticolas and fallow deer, and we gossiped and beamed, our lives crossed by the world's rarest cat, the 164th cat of 13 species on my Big Cat Quest and most probably the last.

Cats seen in 2015
cheetah Acinonyx jubatus fearonii                3
serval Leptailurus serval serval                    3
leopard Panthera pardus suahelicus            2
lion Panthera leo nubica                              78
snow leopard Panthera uncia                       3
jungle cat Felis chaus                                   2
tiger Panthera tigris tigris                            13
leopard Panthera pardus fusca                    4
lion Panthera leo persica                              7
leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis           15
flat-headed cat Prionailurus planiceps          1
wildcat hybrid Felis silvestris grampia/catus  1
jaguar Panthera onca                                    17
puma Puma concolor                                    14
Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus                            1

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