The last victims of climate change in Spain

Sierra de Baza. They find 84 dead deer in the Granada area due to a bacterium that is activated when the animals' defenses fall as a result of this year's extreme weather

It was late afternoon in Granada on Saturday, March 26, when the phone of Almudena Cano, the director of the Sierra de Baza Natural Park, rang. The matter could not wait. "We have found five dead deer," informed Francisco Rodríguez, in charge of coordinating the ten forestry agents of this protected area that covers an area of ​​almost 54,000 hectares in the east of the province of Granada. The emergency lights came on as soon as I hung up.

Ruled out from the first moment that the hunters were behind what happened, all the causes were on the table. From poisoning to the outbreak of an infectious disease such as the dreaded Bluetongue. The protocols were activated. The first step was to send two complete bodies to the Center for Analysis and Diagnosis (CAD) in Malaga. The second, that the technicians combed the Park to check if there were more deceased specimens, a complicated task because the territory had received a heavy snowfall. They finally found 84, with a lower incidence in the south-southwest strip. "It is impossible to provide an exact figure because we cannot reach every corner," says Almudena Cano.

The preliminary analyzes of the CAD were clearing up the unknowns little by little. It wasn't brucellosis, nor was it paratuberculosis or sheep catarrhal fever. It was on May 6 when the final ruling came out. The massive mortality, dated in the second half of March, was caused by severe pulmonary congestion caused by Mannheimia haemolytica, a bacterium that resides in the respiratory tract of ungulates and that manifests itself in a lethal way when they suffer a drop in defenses. .

Members of the Sierra de Baza Project Association observe the remains of one of the specimens killed in the second half of March. /

George Shepherd

And here, at this point, is when the hand of man and his contempt for nature does appear. «The sudden weather changes in the area, with episodes of heavy rains, in which up to 400 liters per square meter were recorded between March 21 and 25, after a persistent four-year drought, added to a drastic drop in the temperatures would have generated a stress situation that triggered this pathology”, explains Cano. Conditions that are far from the environmental patterns of the Park and that directly point to the devastating action of climate change, according to the consensus of the experts.

An exceptional situation, says the Environment delegate, Manuel Francisco García. "In Granada there is no precedent and in Andalusia only one, in 2007, in Cádiz, where the death of four hundred deer was recorded," says the representative of the Board, who emphasizes that from the first moment they have been scrupulously respected all procedures and there has been transparency. On March 30, four days after the alert went off, the members of the governing board of the Sierra de Baza Natural Park were already informed of what had happened.

The implementation of the Protocol, which concerns two ministries of the Board, that of Agriculture, Fisheries, Livestock and Sustainable Development on the one hand and that of Health on the other, is part of the Epidemiological Surveillance Program for Wild Fauna in Andalusia. The objective is to detect the appearance of diseases to determine their prevalence and establish the most appropriate intervention measures, whether they are prevention, fight and control.

Sierra de Baza Project

The events did not go unnoticed by the Sierra Baza Project Association, a very active group whose aim is to learn about, preserve and disseminate the singularities of a mountainous area, declared a Natural Park in 1989. An exceptionally diverse ecosystem with native pine forests , holm oaks and maples, with more than a hundred species of birds -some of them successfully reintroduced such as the bearded vulture-, mammals such as the genet or the fox and a varied hunting fauna.

Beyond the official tracking work carried out by the Junta de Andalucía, this Association has located more than fifty lifeless deer, although according to one of its members, Agustín Orduña, "this amount could be perfectly multiplied by two or three" . We would, therefore, go above two hundred. "It is very difficult to provide a one hundred percent reliable calculation because there are many inaccessible places such as deep ravines," adds Orduña. "We spoke with mountain people to understand what had happened and they pointed in the same direction that the Board later resolved, the effect of the modifications that the climate is suffering."

Now what remains to be determined is to what extent the deer population will decrease in the Sierra de Baza Natural Park when the next count is made, in July. "I think that little will be noticed," summarizes Almudena Cano. In other words, the density will not drop much from the average of between three and five that is recorded today per square kilometer. Not a minor issue for several reasons. The first is more conservationist and is related to the maintenance of the food chain. In fact, the Park has made the decision not to remove the carcasses so that the birds of prey can eat the carrion. And the second has more to do with the mighty knight.

And it is that hunting leaves a lot of money in the Baza region - only in the Park there are thirty-eight authorized preserves. A fan spends an average of one thousand euros in Andalusia throughout a season. A money that generates jobs for caretakers, rehalers, drafters of technical plans... and that also creates wealth in essential sectors for the economy of Baza such as hotels and restaurants. There are many shotguns that visit these payments every year to collect high-value pieces -in Baza there is big game and small game-.

A great mining museum

To the attractions of the Park due to the variety of its flora and fauna, we must add mining, one of the most present and deep-rooted activities throughout the history of human occupation in the area. Already in prehistory it is probable that iron seams were exploited. Later, lead and gold attracted Roman invaders. It was in the mid-nineteenth century when there was a real explosion of farms with infrastructures that can be visited today after being recovered.

All doubts will be resolved when the next census is carried out, in two months. The specialists will then complete the three routes traced by the Park to count -north, east and west-. Six people, perfect connoisseurs of the place, will travel in pairs, on foot or by vehicle, these linear itineraries to scan and add. They will do it from direct observation, although they also use tools such as binoculars. "The same colleagues always follow the same paths, so they have extensive experience in detecting them," says Almudena Cano. At that time it will be known if there are still between three and five deer per square kilometer or if the ratio has dropped due to pasteurella.

The Sierra de Baza massif rises like a mountainous island at the end of the Hoyas de Guadix and Baza. The highest peaks are Calar de Santa Bárbara (2,269 meters above sea level), Calar de Rapa (2,228 meters), Calar de San Sebastián (2,159 meters) and Picón de Gor (2,157 meters). It covers an area of ​​53,649 hectares that includes the municipalities of Baza, Caniles, Dollar, Gor and Valle del Zalabí.

The Sierra de Baza has a higher rainfall pattern than the depressions that surround it -it is also colder-, which is why it became a refuge for some species of flora after the last glaciation. This provides attractive landscapes and habitats of great ecological interest. The Park has an interpretation center located about five kilometers from the A-92 motorway. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The exhibition is located on the first floor of the building distributed in two rooms. The first offers a tour of the natural values ​​of the Park and the second shows the mark left by human beings through architecture, uses and exploitation.

Lagoon generated in the area of ​​Prado del Rey after the last snowfall thawed. / George Shepherd

Money to end the evils that affect the Park

Manuel Gavilán, mayor of Baza, considers that once the episode of the deer mortality is over, it is time to try to recover the population of these ungulates and that their census be the one that can accommodate the almost 54,000 hectares of this natural area. Gavilán says that fortunately what happened has already been clarified and the alarm created has disappeared, despite the fact that the results of the analyzes that certify what had happened have been slow in coming.

Fortunately, according to Gavilán, it was not a contagious disease that could have affected other species, something that was ruled out almost from the beginning. «Now -adds Gavilán- it is time for the administration to invest the necessary money to put an end to the evils that affect the Sierra de Baza Natural Park, such as the plague of mistletoe and the processionary, and to start up the infrastructures that it already has but that are closed, as well as improving the extensive network of paths and projects to improve and promote this protected area.

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