You would think that in a relatively built-up part of Portugal, the only wildlife would be birds and maybe creepy-crawlies, but there are some unusual creatures out there that have made the Algarve their home.
I admit I live in a pretty rural spot, but it’s only about 1 kilometre from the nearest town, so my chances of seeing anything wilder than the odd farm cat are increased somewhat and remarkably I had a fox actually in the garden one evening. It wasn’t even dark, but the poor creature must have been thirsty as it was licking the overflow water in the saucers of my plant pots. It showed no fear either when we waved our arms about and advanced on it, and eventually slunk away through the bars of the gate – it was very thin. I was tempted to leave food out for it but didn’t want to encourage the whole family for dinner, so settled for leaving a dish of water outside, my thinking being that there are probably plenty of mice and voles out there it would naturally feed on, but water may be harder to find.
I have seen wild boar too, well the rear end of one or two as they were more frightened of me than I was of them, and even their rumps looked enormous, I dread to think what I would do if the sharp end was coming at me! But in the spring, we could hear them outside the garden rustling round in the bushes, and the following day the evidence of their visit was a trail of quite big random deep diggings.
Another encounter, albeit not so close, was an Egyptian mongoose, I understand not often seen. They are shy creatures, whose diet includes rabbits and hares, which are frequently seen – and drive my dogs bonkers if they see them.
The rarest sight was a Lynx, and at first, we didn’t realise what we had actually seen, running ahead of us on a poorly lit road – hairy pointed ears, short stubby tail like a rabbit’s scut, bigger than a cat. There is successful captive conservation and breeding programme in place for these creatures, and I read just today that another 3 new kittens were born on 27th February this year at the National Iberian Lynx Centre in Silves, one of them a female. All good news for conserving a nearly extinct breed.
Hedgehogs are sadly something I have only seen flattened on roads, but they are active and breeding and are frequently seen in gardens and on golf courses throughout Portugal. Two facts I recently learned about them – they are lactose intolerant, so don’t leave out milk and bread for them (something that was quite common in the UK years ago), but apparently meat-based dog or cat food and water is fine. They also have 5000 – 7000 spikes and are solitary creatures, but if you see a group, it is collectively called an 'array’ of hedgehogs! (Well, well, you learn something new every day.) You can pretty much guarantee they will have fleas, but hedgehogs are host only to a specific type of flea, Archaeopsylla erinacei, which apparently will not live long on any other species, so no fear of them infecting your dog, or indeed, yourself.
I have seen eagles and birds of prey, magnificent sights, effortlessly floating on thermals of warm air while their ‘eagle’ eyes seek out small creatures daft enough not to check the sky first before venturing out, and an eagle can reach incredible speeds when they dive and swoop on a meal – their eyesight is so good, they can see a rabbit running from three miles away! Kestrels also fall into this group and are more commonly seen, and in fact a friend has a pair living close by.
Interestingly, both eagles and kestrels mate for life, as do a lot of other species, including geese, swans, cranes and eagles, but it's only part of the story, as some ‘cheat’ and some ‘divorce’ as well. But perhaps at rates lower than the human species!