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Monday, April 16, 2012 (read 287 times)
The Iberian Lynxby Hannah Ryan
While the image of the bull is immediately conjured up when thinking of Spain, it is understandable that Iberian Lynx is less well known, since it is the most endangered cat species in the world. The Iberian lynx is a distinctive creature and an iconic animal for Andalucía. Yet it has required a monumental effort to pull it back from the brink of extinction.
The Iberian Lynx, or Lynx pardinus, was once found all over Spain and Portugal, yet now populations are restricted to just Andalucía. This critically endangered species has seen its numbers plummet in recent years, with populations estimated to be as small as just 150 in 2005. If the Iberian lynx were to become extinct, it would be the first feline species to do so since the sabre tooth tiger, at least 2,000 years ago.
The lince ibérico, as it is known in Spain, has several factors to blame for its dwindling numbers. As an unusually fussy eater, the Iberian Lynx suffered greatly when its food of choice, the rabbit, was devastated by two major disease outbreaks – myxomatosis in the 60s and viral haemorrhagic disease in the 90s. The scarcity of food added to other stresses for the lynx. These include habitat destruction, caused by the spread of farming and urbanisation of the surrounding area, and the large numbers of lynx that were being caught in traps set by landowners to get rid of foxes and other vermin. Only two breeding populations remain, based in protected areas in Spain.
The situation was so desperate that conservationists in Spain were forced to take radical action, removing some of the cats from the wild and putting them into captivity to breed, in an attempt to boost numbers. Conservationists from the Lynx Life project have been working closely to ensure the survival of this “super predator”. Thanks to breeding projects in the Doñana Nature Park in Huelva, and the Sierra Morena area just north of Andújar, numbers of the Iberian Lynx have continued to grow. Kittens born in captivity are released into the wild, with electronic collars so their progress can be monitored.
Saving the lynx has also required political action: laws have been introduced in Andalucía to stop indiscriminate snare-laying by landowners; an intense PR campaign aims to persuade owners of hunting estates to love the lynx, as they kill foxes; and the €33m investment of the Andalucian government to fund conservation. A further €50m, mainly from the EU has been committed to reintroduce the Iberian Lynx to other areas of Spain and Portugal, to continue its survival.
"The Iberian lynx is a key species in the Mediterranean ecosystem. It is a top predator, and if we preserve this species, we are preserving the whole ecosystem” says Dr Miguel Simon, of the Lynx Life Project. "It is our heritage, and we have to preserve it for future generations." ¡Si será cierto!
Keywords: the iberian lynx, endangered species, the spanish lynx, big cat population, conservation