DO¿ANA NATIONAL PARK, SPAIN¿While driving along a sandy road on the northern part of the National Park of Do¿ana, in southwest Spain near Seville, Francisco Palomares outlines the glaring difference between the two habitats that run on either side. To the southeast is open pastureland; closer to the fences is a scrub zone called Coto del Rey, which also abounds with cork trees and pines growing up to four meters high. Not visible is the marshland farther away, toward the east at the park's core. The diverse environments probably make Do¿ana the richest reserve in Europe, attracting some 400 species of birds and several types of wildcats, deer and other mammals. Yet ironically, reserves such as this one may be doing more harm than good, at least on their margins. That conclusion is based on the population of the Eurasian badger (Meles meles), which has been decreasing because of poachers drawn to the reserve in search of easy pickings. In fact, in some places there are fewer badgers on the inside of the fenced-in park than on adjacent areas outside.
The badgers themselves are of no interest to the poachers, who aim for red deer and other wild game abundant on the pasturelands. Those areas are the "killing fields" for the badgers, says Palomares, a biologist at the Estaci¿n Biol¿gica of Do¿ana-CSIC. At night, the animals leave the safety of the scrubs to hunt on the open lands and find themselves at the mercy of hounds unleashed by the poachers during their nocturnal raids. "We have seen entire families wiped out this way in a matter of only a few months," Palomares states.
This article was originally published with the title Troubles at the Edge.