May 24th, 2012
The Iberian Lynx has recently been classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as the world’s most endangered feline species.
It is set to be the first cat species since the sabre toothed tiger to go extinct (which happened over 10,000 years ago)
Saving it is proving to be an authentic race against time.
At the turn of the last Century there were thousands of Iberian Lynxes (also sometimes referred to as the as the Pardel lynx) roaming the Iberian Peninsular. Today their numbers are restricted to less than 200 cats, that are only found in two areas in Andalusia.
The only two breeding populations in Andalucia are to be found in the Coto Doñana National park and near Andújar-Cardeña in the Eastern Sierra Morena.
Although the breeding centre in Doñana, known as “El Acebuche,” is the most well known, the largest concentration of adult breeding lynxes is actually to be found in the Sierra Morena.
Nearly all the conversation efforts are being focused on these two cat populations.
An inherently shy animal, the Lynx does not respond well to any form of breeding program. They are notorious difficult to breed in captivity and any human contact with them needs to be kept to an absolute minimum.
So much so, that until very recently, the scientists in Doñana were actually using parasites to obtain samples of the lynx’s blood. Anaesthetising the cat and removing blood with a syringe was proving to be too stressful for the animal. Hence the need for blood sucking insects.
The breeding station in Doñana is manned by a team of volunteers who monitor the cat’s movements on hidden surveillance cameras 24/7.
Why has the Lynx disappeared?
There are numerous reasons. The primary one is rabbits. Or lack of them.
The Iberian Lynx’s favourite food is the wild rabbit. It shows little interest in any other type of food. As the wild rabbit population has been decimated by several epidemics, food has become increasingly scarce.
Over construction, pollution and especially agriculture have all played their part as well.
Will the program succeed?
The European Union has just pledged a record amount of funding for a conversation program. Some 25 million Euros. It comes on the back of the early success of the breeding program, the conservation and the reintroduction of the Iberian Lynx.
Between 2005 and 2011 – no less than 41 cubs have been raised in the Andalusian breeding centres.
It is hoped that within ten years, the Iberian Lynx can be back where it should be…..in the wild.
image credits – Reuters