I’ve had a lot of stand out moments in nature before, but the experience we had with this Iberian lynx has just jumped right to the front of the queue. Here is an explanation of what happened:
It started with a custom trip to Andalusia that I organised so that our guests, Paul and Robyn could have a chance to see this wonderful cat in its natural environment, Sierra de Andujar Natural Park. Numbers of this cat fell so low that a large European-funded project stepped in to do something about it. So, as you can imagine, due to low numbers, and the fact that it is largely nocturnal and extremely elusive, this is not an easy cat to see. After a full 24 hours in the park, we finally had a breakthrough on the evening of our second day. A Spanish couple that I know, Guillermo and Angeles, who were staying at the same villa as us, pulled us over on the road in prime Lynx habitat. His words were ‘hablas espanol, we have seen a lynx in the area’. I couldn’t believe our luck and I quickly threw the car into a layby and pretty much deserted it with all the windows open. We are forever in debt to Guillermo for stopping us, as we could have drove a lot further on and missed the events that unfolded. Anyway, in true lynx style, it was nowhere to be seen, so we all spread out across the mountain ridge and scanned the opposite hillside intensely for around an hour. No joy, but the fact that it had been seen kept us glued to the same spot searching.
I was getting restless so I decided to start walking towards Paul and Robyn, as they were a few hundred metres from me. Then immediately as I did so, my walkie-talkie went off and it was Robyn saying Paul has found a Lynx in the telescope. I quickly told Guillermo and Angeles, as well as another English guy called Keith and we all legged it towards the sighting, all on the verge of heart attacks as we carried all our equipment at lightening speed. Paul explained exactly where it was, and as we all locked onto it, a second lynx came out of nowhere.
They are known to be solitary and very territorial, so I was surprised to see them walking towards each other. It didn’t go well. They immediately started fighting and screaming at each other, it was very violent, and fur was literally flying everywhere. One of them was much bigger than the other and was winning the fight. The smaller one was increasingly more submissive and eventually retreated into a large bush. Magpies are often a great clue as to where lynx are, as they collectively mob lynx to get rid of them. But in this case, about 25 magpies all took up a position in a bush and silently watched the fight, as if spectating. The big male then sat on a track in plain view and rested after his aggressive outburst. Every 5 minutes or so he would get up, spray a few bushes to mark his territory then rest again. All the while more and more people were turning up and getting immediate views of lynx. One family from Brussels had been caught up in the drama at Brussels airport and had been diverted all around Europe, as well as having their bags lost by the airlines. So we were delighted that as they arrived, Robyn showed them a lynx in her telescope. Their luck had finally changed.
Anyway, after roughly 50 minutes of distant views in the scope, the lynx got up and started to move with more intent. The sun was setting and he was more than likely preparing for his nocturnal activities. He started walking directly towards us, roughly 400 meters away, then changed direction and quickly went out of sight because we were looking down into a valley that had lots of nooks and crannies which he could easily disappear into. Some people stayed in position and others spread out and scrambled to a position where they thought he might appear. Based on the geography of the area and the direction the cat was heading, I positioned myself about 150 m away from the group and waited alone so that if the cat went that way, then at least I would have one area covered. About 20 minutes passed and I was now thinking that I had made a bad choice and everyone else was probably sat having great views while I am here, in silence, on my own. I turned around to head back and there it was, right behind me, just watching me from about 2m away. He was calm, I was calm. I started to take photos of him and realised that I had accidentally clicked a button on the camera, so my settings were wrong and the pictures were useless. He wasn’t moving, so I even had time to get my settings right and continue to take shots.
He must have got bored of me and decided to continue walking, aiming through a small underpass / tunnel that went under the road I was on, so I was basically above him looking down. While he was in the tunnel, I rang Robyn and said ‘walk towards me as discretely as possible’, so as not to cause a stampede of people and frighten him off. Soon enough Robyn and Paul turned up. He climbed up a hillside next to me, and then I temporarily lost him.
Paul came to the rescue again and found him. He had positioned himself on a rock above us, just like I lion would, looking down over the valley at the commotion as people were turning up to get a glimpse. He had cleverly sneaked into a position where he could see us, and if I hadn’t stumbled across him, he would have been looking down on a group of people that were looking for him.
This was his realm! I don’t know whether it’s their ghost like enigma or their bizarre looks but there is something spellbinding about this cat. Everyone there was mesmerised! This is the 2nd time that I have had a moment like this as a similar thing happened with a female lynx in 2014. It was an unbelievably close encounter with one of the most elusive cats in the world. The moment will stay with me forever and I will do anything I can to help this species.
We spent the next few days searching for lynx and other wildlife but deep in our hearts we knew we had had our moment and that we would not see one again! We saw a few new faces that had been searching endlessly for days with no joy, so it put it into perspective how much luck we had with this encounter!
If you are interested in coming on a trip to find lynx then here are some tours I am doing in the future.