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Release the Hounds! (In a National Park??)

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

One of my greatest joys is being able to tell a story, to document something that's happened from start to finish. Sometimes it takes years to get the story. And then there are those rare moments when you see something unfolding and you have your camera ready, and you just get the story.

That said...
One of my greatest frustrations about Blogger is the way it shrinks my photos. If you click on a photo it'll give you blown-up versions of all of them. And trust me, for this post, you're gonna need to click on photos. Promise me you will. Because all this happened at a great distance, and the light was terrible, as it usually is, and I was excited, as I usually am. 

While watching the griffons, some of them spooked from their perches on the mountainside. From across the river, on the other side of the mountain, we heard gunshots and men yelling. And then we heard the chilling sound of dogs baying. Lots of dogs. 

Our unbelieving eyes discerned a pack of particolored dogs literally pouring down the flank of the mountain where the vultures perched. This seemed a very odd thing to be happening in a national park,  close to the Christmas holiday. Or anytime. What is a huge pack of dogs doing in a national park where threatened birds are nesting? 

Something in the dogs' appearance pricked at my memory. Hounds. Very fast, very lean, greyhound like forms. Sight hounds. I've got it! They're Ibizan hounds!

I've blown up a small section of my photo here so you can see what I'm talking about--the red-tan and white, graceful forms of what I believe to be Ibizan hounds. Bang! Bang! Yahhh! Still the human voices rang through the dehesa (oak forest).

As you know, I love to see a dog doing its job. I can see red trackers on these dogs' collars, which tells me they are valued animals, set out on a hunt on purpose.

I've done a little reading on Ibizan hounds. They're sight hounds who are likely little diferent from their original form of several thousand years ago. The breed, also called Podenco Ibicenco or Balaeric Dog, is derived from the pariah dogs brought from Egypt to the island of Ibiza off Spain's coast, by Phoenician traders. Because they were isolated on Ibiza, they have remained virtually unchanged for several thousand years. Seeing one is like looking at a heiroglyph!

 Once again, that antiquity thing, only this time it's expressed in flesh. In beautiful dogs. They're similar to Pharoah hounds. Here's a photo from Seattle Purebred Dogs/Shutterstock that I grabbed off the Net. Egad they're lovely animals. Unless you're an animal--any animal-- trying to live its life in Monfragüe National Park when they're loosed...I would not want to be trying to outrun this hound.

All this--what ARE those dogs?? Why are they hunting in a pack in a national park? What about the vultures? What about the Iberian lynx that are supposed live here??  is running through my head as I am striving to get photos of the little river of hounds pouring down the steep flank of the mountain.

 And as I'm shooting photos I hear a sharp clattering on the steep rocky riverbank, on the far side, below where the hounds are coursing. What in the Sam Hill? It's hooves on rock!

Through my lens, I can see it is a beautiful Iberian deer, a stag, and he's running for his very life. Into the frigid river he plunges, without hesitation.

And he begins to swim.

Who can blame him, as the shots and yells ring out behind him? As the hounds get ever closer?

Liam, Phoebe and I watch and marvel as he swims, slender legs churning underwater, being swept by the current, but making headway nonetheless.
Animals and birds continually do things I cannot even contemplate. Heroic, impossible things.

All told, by the timestamps on my photos, it took him about eight minutes to make the crossing. You can be sure it felt like forever to us. I'd have drowned in the first 50 feet.

 Liam ran down the observation walk to get a better perspective on the stag when he came out--I was blocked by trees--and yelled to me to hurry over. I hugged my big camera and ran over as fast as I could, and managed to get him just as he emerged from the river. Hooray! He made it!

A beautiful stag lives to see another day. I shared my photos with the kind Belgian birder who showed us the griffon nest. Our respective situational awareness and sharing wound up benefiting us all.

 I am exhilarated, having caught the hunters and the hunted, and seen a magnificent stag escape to safety. But I am also angry to have witnessed this in a national park. What is the meaning of a park, anyway, if this kind of indiscriminate hunting still goes on here?

Monfragüe is home not only to the griffons, black vultures and black storks, but to a few Iberian lynx, known to be one of the most critically endangered felines in the world.  Little wonder, given the amount of predator "control"  that goes on in Spain.

Lynx ex situ (i.e. captive) CNRLI/ICNF, taken from

Apparently this hunting with dogs is legal in the park. Let that sink in for a bit. Though lynx were legally protected in Spain in 1973, they are still being shot. And snaring and trapping goes on. Coursing with hounds is about the most indiscriminate kind of hunting one could do, and I understand that a radio-collared Iberian lynx was recently run out of Monfragüe by hounds. Great. Forced out of the habitat set aside for it. Well, it's not protected in the park, either, with this kind of hunting going on.

Our thrilling chase and escape story ends on a somber note. How could the Spanish government possibly justify such activities within a national park? 

Well, we don't set the best example for anyone to follow, with our Lands of Many Uses. Cattle grazing, clearcutting and oil/gas exploration and drilling, anyone?  

On a more hopeful note, here's an October 2019 article from Smithsonian that cites a spectacularly successful captive breeding and release program for Iberian lynx that has brought their numbers from around 100 to more than 700 animals since 2002! Cats do love to breed, and that is working in their favor, thank goodness!

Lynx ex situ (i.e. captive) CNRLI/ICNF, taken from

 Lynx have been reintroduced to an area about 7x the size of their shrunken range at the start of conservation efforts. Furthermore, their survival percentages once released have far exceeded expectations. Let's hear it for an endangered cat that is doing everything it can to stay with the living,
Ibizan hounds, yahoos with guns and all. 

Lynx ex situ (i.e. captive) CNRLI/ICNF, taken from
Just look at that coat pattern! What a beautiful beast! And so very different from our Canada lynx. A lot bobcattier.

Read about the heartening rebound of Iberian lynx at Smithsonian Magazine's site.

I was so excited to have documented both the hunt and the stag's escape that I pretty much grinned and jabbered for the rest of the afternoon. Liam would lean over and ask, "So...did you get the pictures, Ma?" And then the kids would both laugh at me.

Yes I did, punk. And I got a few of you, too. I like this one with the landscape lines all converging on your head, like you're having a mind-blowing moment amidst the lichens. 


Exciting story & Liam looks like a professional model in that shot!

just.... wow....

Too many humans are evil beasts. 😡

No doubt Liam's mind was blown!
Excuse the fuck out of me, but the lack of ethics and conservatism shown throughout the world by humans and our governments friggin' boggles my mind. Hunting stags with Ibizan hounds in National Forests of Spain; poaching elephants, rhinos and hunting of giraffes, giraffes of all Earth's creatures, so lovely and elegant and innocently harmless, in Africa; Snagging migrating songbirds to eat in mist nets throughout the Middle East and Europe; Further extravagant development through mediation lands where gopher tortoises have been rehomed when their original homes were bulldozed to construct yet more subdivisions in Florida US, knowing that the aquifer on which all of Florida depends is already compromised and not adequate; Wildfires in Australia that mean possible extinction for so many species, characterized as merely inconvenient by their govt...
I weep, and so should we all.

Walking in your footsteps
Hey mighty brontosaurus
Don't you have a lesson for us
You thought your rule would always last
There were no lessons in your past
You were built three stories high
They say you would not hurt a fly
If we explode the atom bomb
Would they say that we were dumb
Walking in your footsteps...

~The Police,
"Walking in Your Footsteps"
Lyrics, Sting

Gail Spratley
(Who cannot remember Google account pw at this moment)

"Mind-blowing Moment Amidst the Lichens" would be a great title for a book or a movie! ;)

Oh do I ever hear you Gail. And we're living in the ultimate idiocracy right now.
Guess we felt it was time for a despot. Every nation needs at least one, right?


What a wonderful post. One that makes me happy and sad at the same time. I can only imagine your anxiety watching the buck in that cold river. Thank you for sharing this information. Who would even think of allowing hunting dogs in such a place?

That picture of Liam.... Guh.... Since your his mother, I probably shouldn't mention how sexy he looks. Then there's the fact that I'm old enough to be his grandmother, so that's weird. But, jeez, he just has it ALL, doesn't he? Looks, humor, talent, kindness.... You make terrific kids, Julie!

Posted by mimimanderly January 29, 2020 at 5:21 PM

I have camped at North Manitou Island in Michigan, an empty island (monitored by a small park service station only). You take a ferry from Leland, Michigan for an hour across Lake Michigan to get there. The island got overbrowsed by deer in the past, and deer would swim (!) between North to South Manitou to get resources in the past. This was observed by ferry drivers at various times seen in the water between the two islands which are not that close to each other. One was seen at night!

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