The conservation effort taken to prevent the Iberian Lynx’s extinction has paid out, and from a shrinking population of less than 100 individuals in 2002, now 404 cats live in the Mediterranean forests of the Iberian Peninsula. A new ambitious conservation project, LIFE Iberlince, is recovering some of the lynx’s lost territories in Spain and Portugal.
The Iberian lynx is heavily spotted and weighs about half as much as the Eurasian species, with long legs and a very short tail with a black tip. Its coat is tawny with dark spots and it bears a characteristic "beard" around its face and prominent black ear tufts.
Female lynxes generally give birth between March and April. The average litter size is 3, with rarely more than 2 young surviving weaning. Kittens leave the den between 8 and 23 months. Very high rates of mortality during dispersal have been detected.
The Iberian lynx mostly depends on wild rabbits to feed, but it will also eat ducks, young deer and partridges if rabbit densities are low. While an adult lynx needs about one rabbit a day, a mother raising her young needs to catch about 3.
This information has been reviewed by Luis Suarez, Head, Species Programme, WWF-Spain.
Habitat & Ecology
Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands and Scrub
In the early 19th century the Iberian lynx was found in Spain, Portugal and Southern France. It declined steadily during the 20th century, and at the beginning of the 2000s only two isolated breeding populations remained in the world, located in southern Spain, and totaling about 100 adult animals, with only 25 breeding females.
But after joint efforts of the Spanish national and regional administrations, different NGOs (like WWF) and the European Union (via the Life projects), the species has recovered from the brink of extinction. IUCN’s assessment in 2015 has downgraded the Iberian Lynx to “endangered”, due to the increase in mature individuals from 2002.
The 2014 census shows 327 individuals in the strongholds of the species in Andalucia, and since the summer of 2014 around 50 lynxes have been introduced in the LIFE Iberlince reintroduction areas: Sierra Morena and Montes de Toledo in Castilla-La Mancha (Spain), the Matachel Valley in Extremadura (Spain), and Guadiana Valley in Portugal.
The reintroduced lynxes come from the Iberian Lynx Ex-situ Conservation Programme, which is still running and contributing to the future of this endangered species: 53 cubs were born in 2015.
And the latest 2015 census shows 404 adult lynxes.
Despite these signs of hope, crucial challenges remain unsolved, and the species future is still fragile.
What are the main threats?
The Iberian lynx has been brought to the brink of extinction because of a combination of threats:
Decreasing food base
Rabbits form the main prey of the Iberian lynx. Epidemics, such as myxamatosis and the haemorrhagic disease, have affected rabbit populations over the years, which has in turn affected the Iberian lynx population. WWF is calling the spanish authorities to escalate efforts to recover rabbit populations.
The construction of high speed roads and highways, splitting up the Lynx habitat, is another of the main threats for this wild cat. 2014 was a black year: 22 animals died under the wheels of a car. A very high number, given the small population of the species. After a WWF campaign, the spanish national and regional authorities are starting to take preventive measures on the roads.
Habitat loss and degradation
Infrastructures like roads, dams, railways and other human activities contribute to the loss and fragmentation of the Iberian lynx distribution area, creating barriers between the different populations. The expanding road network has also led to more fatalities on the roads. It is thought that between 1960 and 1990, the Iberian lynx suffered an 80% loss in its range.
Ironically, in the past the species was regarded both as an attractive hunting trophy and as a vermin. Hunters prized its valuable fur and its meat, and although some landowners appreciate its tendency to keep fox and rabbit numbers down, most perceive it as a threat to their game populations. The Iberian lynx was legally protected against hunting from the early 1970s, but they are still the victims of guns, traps and snares, particularly those set for other animals.