Wild Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and Iberian Hare (Lepus granatensis) are two of the most important prey species of Iberian ecosystems and two iconic game species for Iberian hunters. As prey species they are preyed upon by more than 40 Iberian predator species, including Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) and the Iberian Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti).
Regardless their importance, the last decades have not been favorable for rabbits and hares from Portugal. The loss of habitat and the emergence of new infectious diseases such as myxomatosis in rabbits and more recently in hares and the two variants of hemorrhagic fever disease in rabbits have caused a huge impact on populations of these Portuguese lagomorphs. Making it imperative to help these two species for the benefit of the entire Iberian ecosystem.
In the Portuguese national hunting capital, the Mértola city council is undertaking a program known as the PRLIC (Wild Rabbit and Iberian Hare Recovery Project). This initiative aims to establish four reproductive parks for these two lagomorph species within the municipality’s hunting estate. The born animals from these parks will strengthen the natural population of both species.
The PRLIC project holds particular significance as Mértola is home to an important portion of the Portuguese Iberian Lynx and Iberian Imperial Eagle populations, two of the world’s most endangered carnivores. The wild rabbit plays a crucial role in the diet of these species, highlighting the importance of the PRLIC project not only for hunters but also for the preservation of the Iberian Lynx and the Iberian Imperial Eagle.
Furthermore, additional habitat management measures, such as the installation of artificial water points, the establishment of hunting crops, and the provision of supplementary food, are being implemented.
In the future, there are plans to expand the project to other hunting estates in Mértola. If it proves successful, there’s plans to extend it to benefit the red-legged partridge population as well.
Hunters make a significant contribution to the conservation of large carnivores and other wildlife across Europe. The importance of their work for large carnivores is recognized by organizations such as the IUCN LCIE (Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe), the Bern Convention, and the EU’s Large Carnivore Platform. Active participation from hunters in the conservation and management of species such as the Brown Bear, Lynx, and Wolf has contributed to the success of these initiatives.
This project demonstrates well how hunters contribute to the conservation of endangered species such as the Iberian Lynx and the Iberian Imperial Eagle, thereby supporting a large array of wildlife and biodiversity. These conservation actions are fully in line with the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and nature restoration targets, highlighting the importance of the recognition of stakeholder’s participation.
Source: Projecto PRLIC
Starting date: 2023
Species: Wild Rabbit, Iberian Hare, Iberian Lynx, Iberian Imperial Eagle
Species characteristics: Huntable species, Protected Species
Type of actions: Management of habitats and wildlife,
Leading partners: Mértola’s City Council