The Monfragüe National Park is today one of the world’s last remaining paradises of Mediterranean fauna and flora, a unique enclave where man seems to have achieved the difficult balance between exploitation and conservation of nature.
Both inside the park and in the area surrounding it, there are meadows with oak and cork trees, the result of the constant influence of humans on the landscape. The forests have been cleared, and bushes removed, in favour of the pasture necessary for the development of intensive cattle-rearing.
Along the steepest slopes, plant-life has remained unchanged, and shrubs cover the forest floor. There is very little variety of fruits on the meadows, but there is one which is very abundant, and very nutritious – the acorn. This seed, produced by the oaks and the cork trees, and greatly appreciated by the wild boar and domesticated pigs, is also the favourite food of one of the most common birds in Monfrague: the wood pigeon.
The wild cat represents one of the final links in the food chain, the system which decides who eats who in nature. At the bottom, holding up the entire structure, are the rodents and the insects.
Just above them come the reptiles, like this ocellated lizard, the largest lizard in the Iberian Peninsula.
The lizard, in turn, is often eaten by the wild cats. All the links in the food chain are dependent on each of the others, and any change in one link will affect all the rest.
Another of the predators of Monfrague, the genet, was introduced into the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs in the eighth century AD. For a hundred years, it was a valuable ally of man – it is an excellent rat- and mouse-catcher. However, the domestic cat took over this job, the genet was used less and less by man, and today they are entirely wild.
The genet will happily eat fruit, but it is mainly carnivorous, and prefers hunting at night, when it can take advantage of the fact its prey is resting. Its sight, smell and hearing are all very acute and, thanks to its sharp retractile claws, it can climb up tree trunks and reach even the most inaccessible nests. Its agility and skill in hunting make it one of the most efficient predators in the forest.
Extensive cattle rearing is one of the traditional activities permitted within the park. The ecological damage it causes is minimal, and more than compensated by certain advantages for the wildlife of the area. In return for the grass they eat, the cattle leave a very valuable gift: their dead.
Every time a sheep dies in Monfrague, a complex system goes into action, in order to dispose of the body.
Yet another species of vulture can also be found in Monfrague – the black vulture, the largest bird of prey in the Iberian Peninsula, and very rare. The park has proven to be an ideal habitat, and numbers have risen – Monfrague is now home to the largest colony of these birds in the world, with over 250 pairs officially counted.
Meadows, virgin forests, crystalline streams and waters held back by the dams – Monfrague is Mediterranean forest, and much more. For 6,00 years, men have lived here and respected the natural environment. Man’s past and man’s future. A unique combination, where conservation and exploitation have achieved that difficult balance which it is man’s duty to strive to maintain.