The Iberian Lynx

European Lynx at Parque Faunistico in the Valle de Tena

European Lynx at La Cuniacha animal park in the Valle de Tena

The Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) once roamed over most of Spain but has recently had the unfortunate label of the world’s most endangered feline. Numbers began falling at the start of the 20th century but in the last few decades numbers have fallen dramatically from an estimated 1100 in 1988 to just 120 in 2005.

Instantly recognisable with tufty ears, long sideburns and beautiful spotted coat the Iberian Lynx is about two feet tall and three feet long. Adults weigh around 25 pounds.

Iberian Lynx used to be seen regularly in the Pyrenees – often in the more Mediterranean climate of the Sierra de Guara. It is thought that they shared the range with European Lynx which are found in the Alps and further north. Sadly the last sightings in the Aragonese Pyrenees were in 1930 in Linás de Marcuello near the cliffs of Riglos and 1940 near Berdún – both animals were killed by hunters.

The main cause for decline in the Pyrenees was thought to be hunting but elsewhere the recent drop in numbers has been put down to a reduction in rabbits which is the mainstay of the lynx’s diet along with with the large number of road, rail and dam projects which have taken place since Spain joined the European Union. These have disrupted Lynx, destroying their habitat and separating populations into smaller and smaller unsustainable groups.

One place you can see lynx is at Parque Faunistico in the Valle de Tena. There are several European Lynx in a large enclosure and in 2010 three young cubs were born. They’re quite hard to spot but it’s a magical sight if you are lucky enough to see those fluffy ears pointing up out of the grass. I’ve previously posted this video of the lynx cubs.

Today only two populations of Iberian Lynx remain both in the south of Spain. A group of around 20-25  lives in Doñana National Park but this number is thought not to be genetically diverse enough to survive. Another larger population of around 70 lynx are in the Sierra de Andújar are thought to have a more sustainable future.

In 2003  the Lynx Life program has been set up and is having some success so much so there is even talk of moving the lynx status from ‘critically endangered’ to just ‘endangered’ which still isn’t great but is a move in the right direction. Lynx Life has several strategies including boosting rabbit populations where Lynx are present. Young pairs of Lynx have been trapped and introduced to new areas of wild land that had been specially prepared to be provide the perfect habitat for both rabbits and lynx. A breeding program has been set up with the idea to take young animals bred in captivity and release them into the Doñana population to increase genetic diversity. These measures have increased the population to an estimated 300 individuals so fingers crossed the Iberian Lynx can come back from the brink.

The Guardian recently published an article about the Lynx Life program.

3 thoughts on “The Iberian Lynx”

  1. Real good post about the Iberian Lynx. Sadly these animals are being hunted into extinction. Like your posts from Spain. best of everything, Heinz

  2. Last night 23/11/2013 at 2315 hours and about 10 minutes drive south of the Vielha tunnel with a howling blizzard coming down from Aneto/Maladeta we caught sight of two Lynx near the road as we drove past….one slightly larger than the other. They jumped back up the slope as we passed…because of the bad weather and the late hour there had been virtually no other traffic as we travelled north from Pont de Suert and on to Vielha…hope this sighting will help with efforts to conserve the species.

  3. Hi Simon,
    Thanks for letting me know about your sighting. Not sure they could have been lynx though as I don’t think there are any wild lynx in the Pyrenees (European or Iberian). You never know though – wolves have been seen in the Catalonian Pyrenees that have come across from Italy so perhaps a few lynx have made it across too.
    Can’t think what else they could have been – wild mountain cats perhaps? Genets (these are really distinctively spotted and tend to avoid bad weather though)? Foxes? Curious – anyone else shed any light on this?
    Hope you had a good trip in the Pyrenees Simon,
    Phil

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