The fauna of Catalonia is largely composed of a combination of a minority of endemic animals of the region and a majority of animals that are also present in other places. Most of Catalonia enjoys a Mediterranean climate (except mountain regions), which means that many of the animals that live there are adapted to the Mediterranean ecosystems. Human activities have endangered the animal biodiversity of Catalonia, putting some species in danger and destroying others, such as the gray wolf or most likely the brown bear. On the other hand, the government has also delimited protected areas in order to preserve the natural wealth of Catalonia.
Catalonia is located, in its entirety, within a Palearctic realm, the largest of the eight ecozones that divide the surface of the Earth. Within the Palearctic realm, Catalonia is part of the ecoregion of the Mediterranean basin, like other parts of southern Europe, North Africa and the western part of Asia. In this ecoregion, winters are generally mild and rainy, and summers are hot and dry. The mosaic of forests, shrubbery and scrubland of this ecoregion houses 13,000 different endemic species.
However, the Mediterranean basin is also one of the most threatened biogeographic regions in the world; only 4% of the region’s vegetation is left, and human activities, including overgrazing, deforestation, and the transformation of lands to create pastures, crop fields or urbanized areas have degraded much of the region. In ancient times, the region was largely covered by forests and bushy areas, but the intense human action has reduced the majority of the region to areas of sclerophyllous vegetation such as: chaparral, subshrub or garrigues. Conservation International has pointed to the Mediterranean basin as one of the key points of biodiversity.
Reptiles and amphibians
Many species of this group have been reduced to small and fragmented populations, others remain without many problems. They are species with low migration capabilities and therefore are very vulnerable to fires, such as the Mediterranean turtle. Aquatic species, on the other hand, suffer from water contamination and the competition from invasive alien species, like in the case of frogs, water snakes, pond turtles and Spanish pond turtles.
The ladder snake (Zamenis scalaris) is a species of snake that is found on the island of Menorca, on the Mediterranean coast of mainland France and throughout the Iberian Peninsula except the north. The Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) is the largest snake of the herpetofauna in Catalonia. There are adult specimens that exceed two meters from head to tail. It is a very thermophilic snake, which preferably lives on the low ground, where it occupies several biotopes that include rocky shrubs, bushy areas, forest floor, crop fields, etc. Occasionally it can also be found in urban areas, especially in peripheral neighborhoods. In fact, it can be found in areas ranging from dry and hot such as those of the Lleida region to much more humid coastal areas (Delta de l’Ebre, Aiguamolls de l’Empordà, Delta del Llobregat, etc.).
The Iberian viper (Vipera latastei) is present in the coastal and inland mountain ranges of the Valencian Country and the counties of Lleida, Tarragona and central and southern Barcelona, it is absent in Andorra and the Balearic Islands.
The Iberian spadefoot toad, although it can be found elsewhere, prefers sandy terrain near or far away from the water, to which it only goes during the breeding season.
Except for the mountainous northern area, it is distributed discontinuously throughout Catalonia, preferring those places where the soil is sandy or lands that are not very consistent or spongy. They are mostly nocturnal and, except for breeding season, they are terrestrial. It is not unusual, after a period of rain, to see a large number of spadefoot toads together, forming a mass that cover the ground.
The Common toad is essentially terrestrial and nocturnal, but it can also be observed during the day, especially after rain. It is ubiquitous species that is present abundantly on the plain and the mountainous areas of the whole of the Principality of Catalonia (from sea level to 2,500m). It is not present only in the central plain of Lleida and in the Pyrenees above the aforementioned altitude.
However, in the farming zones a certain regression is observed, probably due to the excessive use of insecticides, which deprive it of its prey while directly affecting it by swallowing poisoned insects.
The Iberian wall lizard is common in fields, ruins, buildings walls, roadsides, and even it in the trees. On the other hand, it is often present in places close to the human settlements, where, apparently, populations, due to having few predators, may be more numerous and flourishing than those that live in the fields, in uncovered terrain. The Iberian lizard is most abundant in rocky terrains, which provide it with platforms where it can sunbathe and refuge to hide in case of danger. In rural areas it also lives in houses and stone walls that provide the same characteristics, it is also found in areas of forest, meadow and scrubland, although some human activities associated with extensive agriculture may have pushed it out from some areas. The Iberian lizards do not show a true territorial behavior.
The specimens of this species do not really hibernate, but they remain active most of the year. Only the existence of really cold episodes in winter can force them not to leave their shelters for a while. For this reason, the species is absent in the coldest areas of the Iberian Peninsula like the northwest of Asturias and Galicia, as well as in the mountain areas over 1650 meters above sea level.
In some areas of Catalonia it is replaced by the common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis), although there are numerous contact areas between the two species.
Birds form the largest biodiversity of vertebrates in the world. The ability to move and in many cases migratory habits make them present in large biogeographic areas. However, some species are loyal to their nesting area, such as in the case of Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus), or they are found with biogeographic barriers that prevent contact with their genus on the continent, as is the case of the Balearic Warbler (Sylvia balearica). These two species are endemic.
The black vulture (Aegypius monachus) is the largest raptor in Europe and is one of the few vultures that can be found here, along with the Griffon vulture, the Egyptian vulture and the Bearded vulture. It can reach 110 cm in length and 295 cm across the wings.
Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) is a bird of the order of accipitriformes and of the family of the accipitridae. It is one of the largest birds of prey that can be found in the Iberian Peninsula, exceeding in the across the wings length (up to 260 cm) even the Spanish imperial eagle.
There are still some pairs of the Griffon vulture in the Catalan Countries (although scarce and in danger of extinction) in the Pyrenees, Camarasa and the Beseit Ports, occasionally in the Balearic Islands. In the Beseit Ports and in the Pre-Pyrenees, the Zoological Park of Barcelona has established places where dead animals are deposited because with the disappearance of herds and with the mechanization of agriculture the number of dead animals has decreased and, consequently, the number of Griffon vultures. In the summer, when herds go up for pasture in the mountains of the Pyrenees, the Griffon vultures disperse in that direction.
The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is a species of vulture that presents many differences when compared with other similar scavenger birds. Its catalan name trencalòs (bone breaker) relates to the habit that it has, it carries bones that are too large to swallow to high heights, drops them on the rocks smashing them to pieces and then feeds on the exposed bone marrow. It is a very threatened species in large areas of distribution.
In Catalonia, it has survived in caves or crags in the walls of the Pyrenees, where it makes nests with branches and, above all, wool. It can be seen flying over the unique landscapes of the Pyrenean park of Aigüestortes, practically the only place in Europe where there is still a wild colony with chances for survival.
In Catalonia, at the beginning of the 20th century, the species of bearded vulture was present in the Pyrenees and in the Ports of Tortosa. Suddenly it disappeared from this last place and began a regression east-west to the Pyrenees.
In the early 80s the population was only about five or six pairs distributed in the counties of Alta Ribagorça, Pallars Jussà and Pallars Sobirà. The main factors that caused the severe regression were the use of poison, hunting and the damage of the nests.
From then on, the Plan for the Recovery of the Bearded Vulture in Catalonia was approved, which allowed to begin a recovery process. In 2013 it reached 84 adults, distributed between the commarcas of Vall d’Aran, Alta Ribagorça, Pallars Sobirà, Pallars Jussà, Noguera, Alt Urgell, Cerdanya, Berguedà, Solsonès and Ripollès.
In 2015, it was announced that the breeding population slowly increases, a tendency that marks the general tone in the area of the Pyrenees mountain range, which population is the only one that can be considered consolidated, for now, in all of the European Union.
The little owl can be seen mainly in the Mediterranean landscapes, with olive trees, subshrub and some rocky areas. It is also often seen during the day on poles and power lines. The little owl in Catalonia is found in the Mediterranean areas, in church towers and abandoned buildings, although it also uses trees hollows.
Audoin’s gull lives in the Mediterranean, on the high seas, and breeds on the islands, preferably small ones with rocky coasts. It usually seeks cliffs and rocks on the islands, but, in the case of the colony of the Principality of Catalonia, it has adapted to a less vertical land, such as the Delta de l’Ebre.
The Common magpie (Pica pica) is one of the best-known birds in Catalonia, especially in farming areas and in city parks. It is easily identified by color, white belly and wings, and black rest of the body, with iridescence of blue, green or purple tone on the edges of the wings and tail. It is about 46 centimeters long. It inhabits all of Europe (except Iceland, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands), the temperate zone of Asia, northern Africa and the west of North America. There are numerous subspecies.
Among the mammals present in the Catalan Countries there are representatives of the artiodactyl, carnivorous, eulipotyphla, lagomorphs, macroscells, chiropterans and rodents. The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardina), and the subspecies of Pyrenean Ibex (Cabra pyrenaica pyrenaica) are extinct in the area (the Pyrenean Ibex is completely extinct), these two species are peninsular endemisms.
Other subspecies of Iberian ibex thrive with an estimated population across the Iberian peninsula of about 50,000 distributed in 27 groups, one of them in the Ports of Tortosa-Beseit.
Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) and the brown bear (Ursus arctos) have practically disappeared from the territory, although the bear has been reintroduced in some areas of the Pyrenees such as the Aran Valley and nearby areas.
The wolf (Canis lupus), which disappeared from the Catalan countries during the 19th century, has been reintroducing itself naturally from Russia to Scandinavia and then to southern Europe so that by 2009 it has been seen again in the north of Catalonia (Cerdanya).
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is very common throughout the territory, their omnivorous eating habits (in winter it usually visits rubbish bins) make it very adaptable and prolific. It can feed even on young and / or sick wild boars or eagles but with little effectiveness in practice.
Wild boar has greatly increased its population due to the absence of predators, the increase in forest area due to abandonment of agricultural holdings and the eradication of diseases of domestic pigs.
Rabbits have experienced large fluctuations in their populations during the 20th century due to the onset of diseases such as myxomatosis primer and viral hemorrhage. The scarcity or abundance of rabbits affects the whole food chain of wildlife.
Four peninsular species of the genus Lepus have been described: European hare (Lepus europaeus), Granada hare (L. granatensis), broom hare (L. castroviejoi) and Lepus schlumberger. Of lepus granatensis 4 subspecies have been described.
Within the talpidae family there is Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus) that is adapted to aquatic environments in mountain streams of clean and clear waters, currently difficult to find. Its area stretches from the northern slopes of the Pyrenees to the northern half of Portugal. It is considered in danger of extinction.
The european roe deer is a predominantly forest animal, which comes out to open areas several times during the summer to add some herbs to its diet, based primarily on leaves of shrubs and low trees, as well as berries and tender shoots. Active around twilight, sometimes it can be observed during the day, usually it hides in thick vegetation.
The roe deer is a hunted species in all its area of distribution and its hunting is a very common activity, especially in central Europe and Spain. In this last country it abounds especially in the northern part, although it reaches as far as the Alboran Sea. In the province of Cádiz, it is regressing due to the loss of trees. This species is absent in the Balearic Islands, as well as in other Mediterranean islands.
As for Catalonia, roe deer is the most abundant species of deer, since it has stable populations throughout the country. This is due to the reintroductions that the Generalitat de Catalunya did in several protected areas of the country, and according to the latest deer census project, it is present, mostly abundantly, in wooded areas of the 42 counties of Catalonia.
The Pyrenean Chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica) is a common bovidae in the Pyrenees. It is found between the altitudes of 400 and 2,800 m, mainly in Andorra, Cadí-Moixeró, Alt Urgell, Pallars Sobirà, Alta Ribagorça and the Vall d’Aran.
The brown bear in the Catalan Pyrenees
The brown bear in the Pyrenees has a very low population which actually disappeared in the second half of the twentieth century, which is why in 1992 and 1993 the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Diputación General de Aragón, the Government of Navarra and the Ministry of the Environment of France developed a project: Threatened fauna of Pyrenees (from cat. Fauna amenaçada dels Pirineus) to analyze endangered species.
Formerly the brown bear had a strong presence in the Pyrenees and in the rest of Catalonia, in 1935, for example, there were still brown bears in the ports of Tortosa. There are currently about 20 specimens formed by four native bears, and other reintroduced bears.
The autochthonous bears are the brown bears of the Pyrenees, a subspecies of the European brown bear (ursus arctos arctos). There are currently four specimens of native brown bears that are found mainly between the area of the Roncal Valley (Navarra) and Ste Engrace (Bearn) to Occitania and the border formed by the National Park of Ordesa and the French town of Tarbes.
There are four males:
● Aspe oest
● Nere (born in the Valley of Aran, the son of Giva)
● Canelito (son of Nere and Cannelle, the female Cannelle died by a hunter in November of 2004)
The reintroduction of the brown bear in the Pyrenees began in 1996 with a subsidy of the Life program of the European Union for the conservation and protection of species. Despite the protests that year, two specimens were released in Melles: the Giva and Melba, bears from Slovenia.
The conservation program of threatened vertebrate of the Pyrenees, presented jointly by Catalonia, Aragon, Navarra and France, was approved in 1993 by the European Commission, which also included bearded vultures and wild goats and had to be carried out between 1994 and 1997. The program involved the reintroduction of bears to the autonomous community of Catalonia and France and the monitoring of relictual populations in Aragon and Navarra. The planned investment was 1,100 millions pesetas, financed in 75% by the EU.
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