THIS morning, on my early run before the sun comes up, I come across large, fresh paw prints in the dust of a mountain track. It’s the second time I’ve seen them, dismissing them as the prints of a roaming farm dog on the first occasion. This time I take a keener interest. There are claws among the paws – big claws that leave neat indentations . . .
I follow the prints along a dusty track that takes me down steep hillsides. The land is, in places, turned over to olive and almond production, the remainder being mixed scrubland covered in spiky plants and wild herbs. It’s a pleasant though dry landscape. And it’s quiet and remote – a jumble of earthy hills, pinned between the deep blue heights of the Sierra Nevada and Sierra de Lujar.
I’m hoping the paw prints belong to my sorrowful fox. But then I catch a glimpse of the fox, a couple of hundred metres in front of me, and when I see his paw prints in the dirt they are much smaller than the ones I’ve been following.
Near the foot of the hill is a white farmhouse. A short distance from the gate, the large, fresh paw prints leave the track and veer into the scrub. At this point I turn around and head for home, wondering what type of animal is lurking out there among the spiky plants. All I know is it has large paws and sharp claws.
Back at the house I read up on Spain’s native animals. Wildcats are not uncommon. Andalucia also has two colonies of lynx – neither of which is located in the Alpujarras, but lone animals have been known to wander. Lynx are about twice the size of domestic cats and “have large paws”. And, according to the Iberia Nature website:
Lynxes prefer to travel along paths, tracks and firebreaks rather than cross-country. They will even use such human ways to mark out their territory. This is probably because it prefers the silence afforded by padding over bare ground rather than the dry leaves of open country.
I talk to people who know this area well, and none has ever heard of lynx or wildcats roaming the hills and tracks. They say the paw prints will almost certainly be those of a big dog. That’s sort of reassuring.
One of these mornings I might catch a glimpse of my mystery animal. If you hear no more from me, it might have caught me first.