Saturday, November 04, 2006


PINE CATERPILLAR (Lagarta do Pinheiro)
The other day I called my cousin in Portugal. After the usual exchange of small-talk she sadly informed me that Muffles, her stray, pet Perdigueiro-cross doggy was close to death, because he had tried to eat a Lagarta do Pinheiro. His tongue had swollen and he had been choking.

Fortunately my cousin knew about this condition and rushed him off to the vet immediately, who performed an emergency tracheotomy. Then he was pumped with steroids and anti-biotics. It seems like dogs often die from contact with this caterpillar, or at best lose part, or all of their tongue.

This insect can be found in any pine tree and they develop in their cocoons en masse. I believe this caterpillar has not received enough publicity from the Portuguese government.

People coming into contact can suffer severe skin, eyesight and breathing irritation.

Here's the official word:
"The Lagarta do Pinheiro is correctly known as Thaumetophoea Pityocampa and has a huge, negative impact on animals and people. It is found in pine trees and forests throughout the country and is considered a very destructive plague. Between January and May they bury themselves in the ground as part of their evolutionary sequence. Between August and September they are born as caterpillars and gather in their host to absorb the heat. A fine silk thread connects them. These caterpillars have eight receptacles with 100,000 stinging hairs. These receptacles can be opened to release thousands of these hairs which increases the possibility of poisoning any animal, or person that comes into contact with them. The hairs are like needles and inject toxic substances. Dogs smell, or eat them out of curiosity and children play with them. The areas most affected are eyes, mouth and tongue. If you have them on, or near your property have them destroyed. The tissues that come into contact with the toxicity die and often the only solution for dogs is to be put down."
Hospital Veterinario Principal

BOAR (Javali)
Can be seen in many parts of Portugal - free range. Best place to really enjoy seeing them is at Tapada de Mafra, where they run around in little families and you can watch them feeding at specific feeding places, from the comfort and security of your car.

Pata negra (black trotter) are the most highly-prized eating.

PHEASANT/ DUCKS/ PIGEON (Faisão/ Pato/ Pombo)
All to be found freely throughout the country. The latter to plague levels in city centres. However no one seems to have taken the initiative and offered them as pie.

RABBIT/ HARE (Coelho/ Lebre)
Another favourite for the "Caçadores". Found on menus in the country, but rarely in the city.

CATS AND DOGS (Gatos/ Cães)
Not officially a wild animal, but so many of them are thrown out onto the streets to fend for themselves that perhaps they deserve special status.

My cousin has certainly rescued a few, as have many of her friends.

I have rescued a cat and a dog, both of which are still with me.

Cats and dogs are severely maltreated by the Portuguese, a fact that does not endear them to pet-loving Brits. ( But having said that, it was recently announced that 50,000 animals per year are put into the hands of the RSPCA, in the UK. Animal lovers indeed!!!)

You will see strays almost anywhere.

The problem is huge and the government does little to prevent it. Some councils have undertaken a massive capture and destroy campaign, so that you now see far less strays in shopping areas and railway stations than you used to ten years ago.

But my cousin tells me that there are lots of ordinary folk who are trying to help and save animals. The thing is that these stories never make the front-page.

Pet's protection leagues are very poorly funded and seem to rely on donations.

If you do rescue any animal, take it straight to a vet and get it thoroughly checked out for fleas worms and any diseases, which they are probably riddled with after months, or even years of scavenging.

And you have to be prepared for the worst.

Some cannot be saved.

And make sure they are chipped. It is compulsory.

"Raining cats and dogs" is perhaps the one English phrase the Portuguese find most amusing.

RAT (Ratazana)
They love Lisbon. Rats and not the Crow should be its emblem. The climate is nice, there's plenty of bins in the street, restaurants abound and today's generation seem to know nothing about the negative effects of littering.

EAGLE/ HAWK/ OWL/ VULTURE (Águia/ Falcão/ Mocho, or Coruja/ Abutre)
Eagles are to be seen in the north and east. I have spotted them in both locations, near the Spanish border.

Hawks are to be found all over the country and I love to see them.

We had an owl that was a regular visitor to our house in S.Pedro. He/ she used to come and perch on a telegraph cable and study the field opposite, then fly off as silently as he/ she had arrived.

Vultures can also be seen in the north and east. I have seen them on a number of occasions circling on thermals.

SNAKE (generic name: Cobra)
You don't often see snakes in Portugal, although they are there. I once ran over one in the hills in Sintra and once saw the discarded skin of one at my friend Vanessa's house in the Algarve. A good friend of Isabel's keeps two in a big glass aquarium at home, but they always seem to be sleeping under a rock, so I have never seen them.

Don’t know if a Cobra is also called a cobra.

LIZARD (Lagarto)
Love 'em. They fascinate me, always have done since I discovered them as a kid in Africa. I guess they are just miniature reminders of dinosaurs. Pity we can't hear them roar.

They are aggressive and totally territorial. I have often studied them attacking each other over the rights to bask on a particular stretch of garden wall.

Lizards can be seen almost all over Portugal (not so sure about the colder climes of the Minho and Trás-os-Montes).

There is a wonderful Iberian Wolf reserve at Malveira, just east of Mafra. You can visit them and have a conducted tour.

These animals are fascinating.

If you own a dog you will know how you can develop a very close bond and understanding.

But when you meet a wolf, eye to eye, you know they are checking you out.

Are you a threat?

Are you submissive?

Will you be good to eat?

After I visited I was a sure-fire sucker to be a wolf sponsor, for which I received a lovely photo and regular reports on her condition.

The Ibéria Lynx is endangered, but there are efforts being made to conserve what there is.

On the internet SOSLYNX will give you more news.

Don't expect a rapid response if you email them.....


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