16th July 2024
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Iberian Lynx species rebounds from brink of extinction, due to conservation efforts

A species of lynx found in remote areas of Spain and Portugal has rebounded from near extinction, with its adult population growing more than tenfold since the start of the millennium.

Wildlife experts are calling the recovery of the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) unparalleled among felines in an age of extinction in which species are vanishing at a rate not seen in 10 million years due to climate change, pollution and habitat loss.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which categorises species according to the level of risk they face in a ‘Red List’ produced several times a year, bumped up the Iberian Lynx from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ on Thursday.

While the Iberian Lynx shares the yellow eyes and short black stumpy tail with other lynx species, it is much smaller than them and has a distinctive black ‘beard’ of long hair around its chin.

There were just 62 adults scattered across Mediterranean forests in 2001 but the population jumped to around 648 in 2022, IUCN said. Today, the population has risen to more than 2,000, counting both young and adult lynxes across a range of thousands of kilometres covering rocky mountainous areas and valleys.

Francisco Javier Salcedo Ortiz, coordinator of the LIFE Lynx-Connect project, which led the conservation action for the Iberian lynx called it ‘the greatest recovery of a cat species ever achieved through conservation’ and praised a range of actors including landowners, farmers, hunters and the European Union which provided financial and logistical support.

‘There is still a lot of work to do to ensure that Iberian lynx populations survive and the species recovers throughout its indigenous range,’ he added. ‘Looking ahead, there are plans to reintroduce the Iberian lynx to new sites in central and northern Spain.’

Conservation efforts for this lynx species have focused on increasing the abundance of its prey, a species of wild rabbit which is also endangered, programmes to free hundreds of captive lynxes, restoring Mediterranean scrublands and forests, and reducing deaths caused by human activity. Expanding the species’ genetic diversity through translocations and an ex-situ breeding programme has also been key to increasing numbers.

Since 2010, more than 400 Iberian lynx have been reintroduced to parts of Portugal and Spain. The Iberian lynx now occupies at least 3,320 km2, an increase from 449 km2 in 2005.

However, IUCN warned that gains could be reversed and said that threats included diseases from domestic cats and among the European rabbit population it feeds on as well as poaching and road kill. Habitat alterations related to climate change are a growing threat.

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