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Iberian Lynx Mother With Her Cubs
Credit: By http://www.lynxexsitu.es [CC BY 3.0 es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/es/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

On June 2nd, USA Today published a story by Paul Ames that caught my eye: Saving the Iberian lynx from extinction, one cat at a time.

It was just eight years ago, in 2007, that the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species stated the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) population was not sufficient for their long term survival. Today they are classed as critically endangered.

Iberian Lynx adult from the Program Ex-situ ConservationBy http://www.lynxexsitu.es [CC BY 3.0 es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/es/deed.en)], via Wikimedia CommonsThere are four species of lynx which includes the bobcat within the Lynx genus of medium-sized wild cats.

The most notable differences between lynx and other wild cats are these physical characteristics:

  • black tufts of fur atop their ears
  • distinctive facial ruff, like a beard
  • shorter legs, compared to other big cats
  • stubby tail with dark tip
  • large, padded paws
  • light fur on belly and inside of legs

The jungle lynx (aka jungle cat) and and desert lynx (aka caracal) are not members of the lynx genus, however.

Up next is a map of their range, it was last updated on December 23rd, 2013 by Craig Pemberton.

Lynx Range
Credit: Uploaded by Craig Pemberton CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Worldwide Range of the Four Species of Lynx (December 2013)

Key to Map

Iberian Lynx Distribution in Spain (End of 2011) By Dorhi [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsPurple area = Canadian Lynx (Lynx canadensis)

Green area = Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

Orange area = Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx)

Tiny Red Areas in Southern Spain (shown enlarged at right) = Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus)

It was once believed that the Iberian lynx was a subspecies of the Eurasian lynx since both were found in central Europe during the Pleistocene era (Kurten 1968; Kurten and Grandqvist 1987). However, they may never have had overlapping geographic ranges

As such, the Iberian lynx is considered a separate species.

Iberian Lynx Hiding
Credit: By http://www.lynxexsitu.es [CC BY 3.0 es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/es/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

What Threatens the Survival of the Iberian Lynx?

Iberian Lynx Catching PreyBy http://www.lynxexsitu.es [CC BY 3.0 es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/es/deed.en)], via Wikimedia CommonsAccording to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Iberian lynx was found in Portugal, Spain, and Southern France at the beginning of the 19th century.

In the late 1990s to early 2000s, less than 100 adult Iberian lynxes were left. And of those, only 25 were breeding females.

Thankfully, extraordinary efforts to save the Iberian lynx appears to be working. Current estimates are that 364 Iberian lynxes are living in the wild today. Although the species is clearly not 'out of the woods' yet. As mentioned in my Numbat article, it takes decades to rebuild most populations of critically endangered species.

The threats facing the survival of the Iberian lynx are as follows. And according to a September 28th, 2013 article by Robin McKie, science editor for the Guardian, the cost to save them number in the millions of dollars.

1) Loss of Prey

Oryctolagus cuniculus (Linnaeus, 1758), European RabbitDonald Hobern (dhobern on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThe mainstay of the Iberian lynx's diet is the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) which is a near threatened species. During my research, I was astonished to learn that the Iberian lynx relies so heavily on these rabbits as a food source.

A July 5th, 2011 study in ScienceDaily titled Iberian lynx depends on rabbits for survival confirmed that even when rabbits were scarce, the Iberian lynx barely reduced it's consumption of them.

The lead author of the study, Pablo Ferreras, a researcher at the Research Institute on Cynegetic Resources (IREC), a joint centre of the University of Castilla-La Mancha, the CSIC and the regional government of Castilla-La Mancha, stated the rabbits "continued to form the basis of 75% of [their] diet."

Unfortunately, the greatest threat to the European rabbit is the prevalence of two diseases: 

Myxomatosis is primarily spread by mosquitoes and fleas. It was intentionally introduced by a farmer in the mid 1950s in France to control the rabbit population (Angulo and Cooke 2002). But an estimated 90% of European rabbits perished because of it (Virgos et al. 2005).

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) appeared in the late 1980s and caused the the death of 55-75% of rabbits in the Iberian peninsula (Villafuerte et al. 1995). RHD is usually spread by direct contact and death often occurs within 24 to 48 hours (Villafuerte et al. 1995). 

A June 12th, 2014 National Geographic article by Cheryl Lyn Dybas confirmed a new rabbit hemorrhagic disease variant had emerged. It's the third time a new strain has appeared which threatens both rabbit and Iberian lynx populations once again.

2) Habitat Loss, Fragmentation, and Human Encroachment

GrazalemaDODO DODO on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericRoads and infrastructure, scrub clearance, and loss of forested areas has heavily impacted the Iberian lynx (and its prey, the European rabbit). In fact, the IUCN Red List states: "More than forty separate lynx populations in Spain and Portugal appear to have collapsed since the early 1980s."

But what also shocked me was the number of fatalities these precious cats suffered in collisions with cars. In 2014 alone, 21 lynx ended up as road kill, and another six were poisoned, shot, or trapped. As stated in the article by Paul Ames: "Those are frightening figures given that there are just 364 animals believed to be living in the wild."

Up next is a pie chart I found on Wikimedia Commons. It depicts the known causes of lynx mortality in the Doñana area between 1982 and 2004. I was taken aback that 27% of their deaths were caused by hunting and that 53% were caused by motor vehicles accidents.

And what's with those wells? Can't we cover those adequately so these cats don't fall into them?

Causes of Lynx Mortality in the Doñana Area (1982 - 2004)

Known Causes of Lynx Mortality in Doñana Area Between 1982 and 2004 Pie Chart
Credit: By Dorhi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

3. Hunting

The WWF states it's been illegal to hunt the Iberian lynx since the early 1970s, however, they are still being killed by traps and snares (usually set out for other animals).

Sadly, there are hunters who intentionally hunt and kill Iberian lynxes as a trophy kill. Their fur and meat (in some circles) is highly prized.

How Can We Help the Iberian Lynx?

Iberian Lynx mother carries cub born in the Program Ex-situ Conservation in 2005By http://www.lynxexsitu.es [CC BY 3.0 es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/es/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons1) Buy wine with a cork in it. We need to ensure that cork farming remains profitable. A whopping 70 percent of farmed cork is used in bottles. When farmers are forced to plant other crops (such as eucalyptus trees) the lynx and the rabbit both lose precious habitat. 

Lynxes rely on the shelter that cork woodland provides to help them raise their young and teach them to hunt.

2) The WWF is working to support captive breeding programs, sponsoring the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe (LCIE) which will provide an action plan for the Iberian lynx, lobbying to protect lynx habitat, and working to protect Spain's Coto Doñana wetlands.

3) Projecto Lynx hopes to increase public interest in protecting the Iberian lynx. They maintain news, current facts, information, and studies about the conservation efforts and status of these precious cats.

4) Fauna & Flora International conserves threatened species and and ecosystems worldwide. Eduardo Santos, League for the Protection of Nature (LPN) stated, "LPN and Fauna & Flora International (FFI) through the lynx programme have managed to secure some of the best land in the country for Iberian lynx."

Notably, FFI also mentions: "By buying real corks, you are helping to maintain cork oak trees and indirectly, the conditions for the Iberian lynx."

Lastly, I leave you with an incredible documentary by Amanda Burrough. It was uploaded on November 7th, 2011 by Al Jazeera English. It clearly shows the dedication and care taken by the team at the El Acebuche Breeding Center in order to save the Iberian lynx. They use over 60 CCTVs to monitor them 24 hours a day. 

For more information about this (and other breeding efforts): The Iberian Lynx Ex-situ Conservation Programme

Earthrise - Saving the Iberian Lynx

The Iberian lynx is the most endangered cat in the world. Once common in Spain and Portugal, by 2005 there were fewer than 150 left. Earthrise visited a breeding centre that lies at the heart of a program that is preventing them from dying out.

Adult Iberian Lynx From the Program Ex-situ Conservation

Iberian Lynx adult from the Program Ex-situ Conservation
Credit: By http://www.lynxexsitu.es [CC BY 3.0 es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/es/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
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