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 (Lynx 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 since beginning their Lynx breeding program, the park have a litter of young cubs born most springs. 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.
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.