The Iberian Lynx wild cat from Spain and Portugal is an animal in danger
Saved from extinction - the Iberian Lynx
The Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus), once common across both Spain and Portugal, is the most endangered cat species in the world. Known as the "Tiger of the Algarve," it is currently listed as critically endangered, and is the most threatened European cantivore. These lynxes were down in numbers to just 100 by 2005, a decline from 4,000 in 1960. There are said to be just 220 living in the wild today.
But there is hope for the Iberian Lynx. Three of the cats were recently released into the wild as a successful result of a captive breeding programme set up in an effort to ensure the survival of the species. Miguel Simon, who is director of the Lynx Life project, is reported to have said: “The situation was really dramatic: there were only two populations left in the wild. In order to preserve this species, we had to create a captive population in case the wild population became extinct.”
Another bit of good news is that at the Doñana National Park in Spain, the Iberian Lynx population seems to have remained steady over recent years, with around 50 individual cats reported in total each year between 2002 and 2008.
About the Iberian Lynx
The Iberian Lynx is also known as the Pardel Lynx, Spanish Lynx and in France it is called the Lynx d'Espagne. It was once thought to be a subspecies of the Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) but was classified as a separate species due to various differences between the two cats.
If the Iberian Lynx becomes extinct it will be the first cat species to have done so in 10,000 years. The last Sabre-toothed Tiger (Smilodon populator) died out that long ago.
It looks much like other lynx species and has a short tail, tufted ears and a ruff of fur beneath the chin, however, it has a distinctive spotted coat similar to that of the Leopard. Its fur is also shorter than in other types which live in colder climates. The male lynxes are larger than the females. Iberian Lynxes reach some 85 to 110 centimetres (33 to 43 in) in body length, with their short tails adding an extra 12 to 30 centimetres (4.7 to 12 in). The shoulder height of an Iberian Lynx is 60 to 70 centimetres (24 to 28 in).
The Iberian Lynx used to be found over all of the Iberian Peninsula until as recently as the mid-19th century, however, it is now confined to very limited parts of southern Spain, and breeding populations have only been confirmed in two areas of Andalucía.
The Iberian Lynx was considered to be only surviving in the Doñana National Park and in the Sierra de Andújar, Jaén in Spain, however, in 2007, it was announced that a previously unknown population had also been found in Castilla - La Mancha.
Being a carnivore, the Iberian Lynx hunts small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Its preferred food is the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) but since the spread of myxomatosis has wiped out many of these once common animals, it has had to switch to other prey, including young deer and ducks.
The Iberian Lynx lives in grassy countryside and open scrub-land with patches of trees. It establishes territories and uses trails and roads as boundaries.
Threats to the Iberian Lynx
There have been many threats to the Iberian Lynx that have resulted in its alarming population decline. Habit destruction due to human development is a main cause but it has also been the victim of poachers, as well as being killed off by poison and in road accidents. Feral dogs attack Iberian Lynxes and have taken their toll on the animals too.
Lack of rabbits has been another big problem for the Iberian Lynx which is a specialised feeder. These cats can take as many as three rabbits per day but in recent years have had to deal with a very great drop in the numbers of their once common prey.
Another very serious threat to the survival of the Iberian Lynx has been the isolation of its populations due to human development causing barriers. This means that its gene pool is in danger because the animals have not been able to get new blood in forthcoming generations by matings with lynxes from other populations outside their range.
The presence of the Iberian Lynx in Portugal is currently uncertain with very few reports of the animals still living there, although this is the country that is doing a lot to ensure the survival of the species for the future.
SOS Lynx - The fight to save the Iberian Lynx
Conservation of the Iberian Lynx
The Iberian Lynx has been protected since the 1970s when a ban on it being hunted was brought in. Nevertheless some animals are still caught in traps set for other species.
Due to the very real threats to its survival the Iberian Lynx is currently listed on CITES Appendix I, as well as on Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Annexes II* and IV of the EU Habitats and Species Directive. In addition the species is fully protected under national law in Spain and Portugal. The Iberian Lynx is classed as Critically Endangered on the national Red Lists of both countries.
Captive breeding programmes are very important indeed for lynx recovery. As well as providing a necessary gene bank for the Iberian Lynx's future survival, new animals will be needed to recolonise the many areas where it has vanished. Efforts to bring about rabbit recovery must also be increased so that there is enough food available for the lynxes again.
SOS Lynx is a conservation charity based in Portugal concerned with the conservation of the Iberian Lynx and other species of these magnificent cats.
Also in Portugal, in March, 2012, seven Iberian Lynx cubs were born to two adult females at the Iberian Lynx reproduction centre in Silves. It is the country's only lynx reproduction unit. It has 18 Iberian Lynxes there at present, with nine females and nine male animals, with 13 of these having been brought from Spain when the place first opened back in 2009.
So all is not lost yet for the Iberian Lynx and it is hoped that this beautiful animal can be rescued from the brink of extinction and restored to at least a good part of its former range.
Endangered Species: Iberian Lynx
© 2012 Steve Andrews
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