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The deadly trap of the Tajo-Segura transfer: How deer and wild boar drown in the canal

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Agents from the Environmental Attorney’s Office sounded the alarm earlier this year: “It is considered established that there have been several incidents of drowning of wild animals in the reference section,” they write in a report. The deadly trap is located in the Tajo-Segura transfer canal, which is surrounded by steep concrete walls on its way through El Picazo (Cuenca, Castile-La Mancha). 7.5 kilometers are at maximum risk for deer, wild boar and other wild animals: since 2018, 50 specimens have drowned in this section and 13 have been rescued, plus 5 other deaths in the Segura canals (for a total of 55), according to data published by EL PAÍS has received in application of the Transparency Law. But the hunters in this area, which flows through the Tagus, assure that the real number is much higher and that it does not appear in the statistics because many animals move away on their own, with the help of their or the administrative staff, or die without anyone notice it. “After a year we take out 100 or more animals,” complains hunter Miguel Huerta.

Thirst is the lure that leads to death. Also the eagerness that encourages them to cross the waters in search of new companions and territories. The animals fall into the canal and begin an agonizing struggle for survival. Again and again they try to return to the field. Again and again they are pushed back by concrete ramps, slide down on their hooves, cut their knees to the exposed joint, break their legs and die.

Only those seen by Seprona agents, employees of the Tajo Hydrographic Confederation, hunters from El Picazo or neighbors acting like western cowboys, throwing a lasso, hooking the animals and kicking them with their feet the cement edge sets the pulse, the body stretched in the opposite direction as a counterweight, and the animals on the other side of the thread on which their lives hang, struggle to climb, not to fall, to breathe, to live.

“We always drive into the car with ties because the animals can’t get out on their own. We pass by a few times a day and if a passer-by sees an animal, they let us know,” says Huerta. “If they’re only there for a short time, nothing will happen to them,” he explains. “If they have leg injuries because they break them trying to get out or tear their knees, that’s different. After a year we remove 100 or more animals. And these are the ones we see twice in the day we spend. And there are many hours in the day!” he describes. “So actually a lot more are dying.”

Attempt to save a wild boar from the transfer channel.

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A thesis that they also defend in the Artemisan Foundation, which, together with the Castile-La Mancha Hunting Association, denounced the deaths, although the public prosecutor found no criminal relevance in what happened. “What is happening here is happening in most canals with the presence of wildlife in the area,” says Luis Fernando Villanueva, director of the Hunting Foundation. “The solution is not easy,” he adds. “No one is asking to fence everything off. But it seems that nothing is happening since they are wild species that are hunted. But it’s very difficult! If instead of these animals it was dogs, cats, pets, things would change. It’s very difficult to see. Hurts”.

The canal that carries the water to the Levante crosses the provinces of Cuenca and Albacete in many sections on the surface and without any protection. The infrastructure consists of canals (170 km), tunnels (44) and aqueducts (11) from the La Bujeda reservoir (Almonacid de Zorita, Guadalajara) to the Talave reservoir (Liétor, Albacete). Prosecutor’s investigators, in a document available to this newspaper, describe 1,823 meters of fence and a ramp with a slope in favor of the current as measures to prevent drowning in the El Picazo section. “Insufficient,” they emphasize. Earlier this year, the Tagus Hydrographic Confederation planned to install another 1,000 meters of fences in the area and build new ramps, agents were told. But everyone agrees that the problem is getting worse over time: the deer population has grown, increasing the risk of falls from 15 miles to more than 75 miles of infrastructure.

“There are 82.3 km of fences along the banks of the canal and 27 exit ramps, which means on average one ramp for every 6 km of canal,” defends this state agency. “Similarly, there are 122 bridges that cross the canal, of which only 22 are roads,” he adds. “Many animal species enter the canal. Many come down to drink on purpose and come out with no problem, eg squirrels and foxes. Others, like wild boar, come down to drink and even bathe. Of the fauna that is widespread in our area, there is only one species that has a lot of difficulty getting out of the canal: the roe deer,” he explains. And it concludes: ‘In any case, it should be borne in mind that, as expressed in the conclusions and technical proposals of the Environmental Substances Unit, ‘no measure is absolutely infallible’, so it must be clear that measures are aimed at reducing target falls and drowning, but there will inevitably be some falls.

A deer tries to exit the Tajo-Segura transfer channel
A deer tries to exit the Tajo-Segura transfer channel

It is therefore foreseeable that the problem will continue, and even more so when summer arrives and with it comes the heat and thirst. “The danger of drowning in concrete gutters mainly affects ungulates that lack sufficient grip to be able to climb the side slope,” says the report that investigators sent to the public prosecutor’s office. “Canals are linear infrastructures that fragment habitats that have a barrier effect on wildlife,” it explains. “The fall into the channel occurs either because the animal approaches the water with the intention of drinking or bathing, or because the animal intends, in its natural movements (migration, feeding, reproduction…) to the other side to reach”, it was stated. “The increase in these events is largely due to the territorial spread of roe deer, which were virtually absent in the reference area a few years ago.”

A few years ago, Huerta rescued a deer with broken legs. Management, he says, gave him permission to take care of him because no specialized shelter could take care of it. For months the animal ate from his hands. Until he healed from injuries caused by concrete ramps trapping animals for so long and drowning them in the waters of the Tajo-Segura transfer canal.

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Source elpais.com

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