Discover the wildlife of the Basque Country: what animals can you see in the mountains?
Our Basque mountains are home to a wide variety of wild animals. Here’s a small selection of the most emblematic animals you’ll see in their natural habitat on your hikes in the Basque Country. Some are (very) rare, even exceptional, while others are easier to approach. Discover it!
The Pottok is a small wild horse from a primitive, hardy breed endemic to the foothills of the Pyrenees. It has been present in the Basque mountains since prehistoric times. In the past, it helped smugglers cross the border between France and Spain. It averages 1.30 m in length and weighs 300 kg. It has a long mane and short ears. In summer, the Pottok wears a brown coat with fine hair, while in winter a thick fur protects it from the elements. In summer, it’s not uncommon to come across these little free-roaming horses while hiking in the mountains of the Basque Country. During your camping vacation, children can even take a pottok ride in the hills above Espelette!
See also: Espelette Pottok Fair
The Betisoak Cow
The betisoak (or betizu) cow is a breed of wild cow that lives in the Basque mountains. They are adapted to the harshness of life at altitude and generally travel in small groups. This is a medium-sized cow, with a tawny coat between brown and blond. It can be recognized by its lyre-shaped horns, raised upwards and backwards. Now threatened with extinction, the betizu population in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region is thought to number no more than 150 head.
The Sasi Ardi sheep
The Sasi Ardi is a breed of ewe very rare in the Pyrenees. Its Basque name means “bush sheep”. Raised in their natural state, these hardy ewes live on the slopes of Mondarrain or La Rhune. The Sasi Ardi is a very rare breed of sheep in the Pyrenees. The current population is the smallest of the Basque sheep breeds. There are around 1,000 animals on the northern slopes, and twice that number on the southern slopes. For example, the Manech Tête Rousse, the dominant breed in terms of numbers, currently numbers around 270,000 head.
Also known as Porcini Pie Noir du Pays Basque, the Basque pig is a short-legged Iberian pig with an elongated body and floppy ears. Its pale skin is marked with large black spots on the head. A tireless walker, it is raised in the open air of the mountains and seeks its food in the woods and fields. After a near-disappearance in the 1980s, Basque pork has become famous the world over, thanks to Bayonne Ham!
The Griffon Vulture
The Basque mountains are home to many birds of prey. While the golden eagle is one of the most majestic birds of prey to be found in the Basque Country, it is also one of the most discreet. Vultures, on the other hand, are less in demand, especially the Griffon Vulture. Departing from the Col de Méhatché, high above the village of Itxassou, the Peñas d’Itsusi circuit allows you to observe these scavengers, which can reach a wingspan of over two meters, in their natural environment. During the summer, the nature protection association Hegalaldia organizes raptor releases at the summit of La Rhune or at the Col de Mehatze.
The legendary dahu
If you’re very lucky, you might even come across a dahu in our Basque mountains. Half ibex, half camel, it’s a very shy wild animal, which makes it all the more difficult to observe. So much so that some still doubt its existence 😉 Endemic to the Basque region, the dahu is unique in that its legs are shorter on one side than the other. This physical characteristic makes it easier to run on mountainsides. But he can’t turn back, or he’ll fall… Ready to go on a wild goose chase with the kids in the Basque Country?
The Pyrenean Desman
If your wild goose chase didn’t bear fruit, you might have a better chance of encountering a Pyrenean Desman. Although! Once a common sight in the rivers and streams of the Basque foothills, this nocturnal animal is very rare and difficult to observe. This semi-aquatic mammal of the Talpidae family (like moles) is nicknamed the “trumpet rat”, because of the long, proboscis-like shape of its snout. In the Basque Country, the Desman lives at low altitude, along natural riverbanks, near streams and lakes. Only discovered in 1811, the Desman is now a protected species threatened with extinction, notably due to the degradation of its natural habitat.