Spain and EU fail world's most endangered cat species
With only 100 Iberian lynx remaining, the global conservation organization says that the EU is actively contributing to the decline of the species through funding road and dam development in remaining critical lynx habitat, and that key lynx territory needs to be urgently included in the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas.
According to the most recent comprehensive survey – conducted in 2004 by the Spanish government – only two isolated breeding populations of Iberian lynx remain in Southern Spain, totalling about 100 animals, with only 25 breeding females.
As recently as two years ago, there were believed to have been at least 160 lynx.
This new survey data makes the situation even more critical. Accidental deaths caused by speeding vehicles on the expanding road network are now the greatest cause of mortality for Iberian lynx.
WWF has been urging the Spanish authorities for over two years to close the Villamanrique-El Rocio road, which crosses the heart of Doñana Natural Park and fragments critical lynx habitat.
The road was built with partial funding from the EU, and several lynx have already been killed on it, the latest one six months ago.
"With such a small population, the accidental loss of just one individual brings the species closer to the brink of extinction," said Luis Suarez, Head of Species, WWF Spain. "It is not acceptable that the European Commission's support to projects aimed at protecting the Iberian lynx are flouted by simultaneous funding of harmful infrastructure schemes."
WWF believes the current reform of EU's Structural Funds should correct such inconsistencies and guarantee that funds are no longer allocated to projects that will have a negative impact on the Iberian lynx or other endangered wildlife.
Previous WWF research showed that 53 heavy public works in Spain affect the endangered cat.
Dams are a particular threat, as they flood valley bottoms which tend to contain the best Iberian lynx habitat.
EU's Natura 2000 Programme is essential to secure and increase lynx habitat, as it offers the strongest level of protection in Europe.
But, according to WWF, the areas proposed by Spain for Natura 2000 designation don't cover all critical lynx territory.
In particular, inclusion of the biological corridor that would connect the remaining breeding population in Doñana National Park with the one in Sierra Morena is of utmost importance.
"We know that these last two populations are absolutely critical for the very survival of the species. All key areas for the Iberian lynx must be included in the Natura 2000 proposal for the Mediterranean region and the Villamanrique-El Rocio road must be closed," said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of the WWF Global Species Programme. "The EU cannot pay lip service to environmental goals, and then proceed to undermine them. It must take species conservation seriously."
Other major threats to the Iberian lynx's survival include plummeting numbers of wild rabbits (the lynx's principal prey), and illegal hunting.
The last cat species to go extinct was the sabre-toothed tiger, some 10,000 years ago. It lived during the Pleistocene Epoch (the early part of the Quaternary Period). A fierce predator, it was about 1.2–1.5 m long, 0.9 m tall, and weighed about 200kg.
For further information:
Joanna Benn, Communications Manager
WWF Species Programme
Tel: +41 22 364 9093
Olivier van Bogaert, Senior Press Officer
Tel: +41 22 364 9554