The infamous Red List created by the The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has, for the last four decades, monitored endangered flora and fauna world-wide. Almost two hundred and fifty species are at risk in Spain and the waters surrounding the peninsular. The hierro giant lizard, fresh water pearl mussel, predatory bush cricket and moorish tortoise, all recognised as critically endangered, could soon go the way of the canarian black oystercatcher, which will never been seen in the skies again.
The impact of overpopulation on the coastal zones has practically eradicated the ancestral habitats of not only the monk seal, but also the fish eagle, whilst the wetlands in Spain, one of the most threatened habitats on the planet, have suffered a drastic reduction in the last fifty years, putting at risk the habitats of many species.
Whilst some species have learned over the centuries to adapt to man, establishing an intimate dependency, changing building design and materials have affected badly the habitats of many rodents, bats, salamanders and birds. Equally, changes in farming and fishing techniques have upset the delicate balance on which many species stake their survival.
Contamination and fire are two other devastating enemies. The fragile ecosystems of the Mediterranean are highly susceptible to fire and it is estimated that 10 – 20 million hectares of forested area are destroyed annually by this means, often as the result of fires started intentionally. Pesticides, industrial residues, plastics, toxic gasses – the inexhaustible capacity of man to generate all types of physical and chemical waste which are rapidly polluting the environment. In the case of the Coto Doñana disaster, everything living downstream perished when the kilometre-long dam holding back the tonnes of toxic waste from the Aznalcóllar zinc, lead and copper mine tore open. Anything that was not asphyxiated died later from arsnic, antimony, cadmium, mercury, lead, zinc or copper poisoning. Even allowing for nature's resilience, it is estimated that the full legacy of the spill will be recognised in 20 – 50 years.
The most recent Spanish addition to the long list which includes the Dodo and Tyrannosaurus Rex, is the Pyrenean ibex, also known as the Spanish wild goat, or bucardo. Though plentiful in North-East Spain in the Fifties and sixties, with a small group surviving in the Ordesa National Park, the population had steadily declined, until the species was officially recognised as extinct in January 2000, when the last remaining male goat was found dead under a fallen tree in Aragon. However, in a unique experiment, scientists in America cloned a guar, an Indian bison, which is one of the world's most endangered animals, using an ordinary domestic cow called Bessie. Unfortunately the bull calf died shortly after birth for reasons not related to the cloning but scientists at Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts will try to clone the bucardo. Samples of the goat's flesh have been kept in a deep-freeze and they, plus the few remaining she-goats, are all that is needed to bring the species back to life once more. If this were successful it would be possible to see the Iberian ibex and monk seal flourishing again.