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Portugal and Spain deploy animal allies in the battle against wildfires

A groundbreaking experiment on the Iberian Peninsula is using endangered species to clear dangerous brush.

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A groundbreaking experiment on the Iberian Peninsula is using endangered species to clear dangerous brush.

ARTICLE BY

PUBLISHED

READING TIME

Less than 1 minute Minutes

UPDATED: 21 Dec 2023, 11:29 pm

Portugal and Spain have announced pilot programmes to leverage the natural grazing behaviour of Garrano horses and European bison, both endangered species, to clear scrubland and brush fueling devastating wildfires.

These two countries experienced the worst of Europe’s wildfires last year, according to a report by the European Commission. Portugal saw 104,450 hectares burn while Spain lost 260,000 hectares in the continent’s second-worst year for wildfires on record.

The Iberian Peninsula is expected to see a sharp increase in high fire danger days, largely due to climate change. Using grazing animals to clear brush and create firebreaks will help mitigate fire risks posed by high temperatures and drought.

[See more: Local Portuguese group set up account for wildfire victims]

Authorities call this method ‘eco-grazing’. Around 300 Garrano horses – each one of which eats around 30 kg of vegetation daily – will be sent to the Cabreira Mountains in northern Portugal, with more parts of the country to follow. 

The Garrano horse is a prehistoric breed known for its small size and hardiness. While it once thrived in Portugal, due to its use in agriculture, it was a rare sight by the 1990s. Diligent conservation efforts have increased horse numbers to over 1,500, and conservationists hope the new eco-grazing programme will build on that progress.

A similar initiative in Spain has recruited European bison, which nearly went extinct a century ago, to maintain forest health in the San Cebrian de Muda reserve. Bison consume over 130 different plant species, making them effective clearers of fire-prone scrub.

 

UPDATED: 21 Dec 2023, 11:29 pm

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