Iberian lynx

Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) Lince Ibérico

Overview

Lynx pardinus (Felis pardina or pardinus, Felis lynx pardina, Lynx lynx pardina)… Too many names!

The Iberian lynx is considered by IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) to be critically endangered and is the world’s most threatened cat species.

Formerly found throughout Spain and Portugal. Although it began to decline in the first half of the 20th century due to over hunting, the decline was hugely accelerated after the 1950’s due to the spread of myxomatosis. A disease which decimated populations of the European rabbit, the lynx’s main prey.

Additional factors in the lynx’s decline include habitat loss (which affects both the lynx itself as well as its rabbit prey), illegal hunting, accidental killing by snares and poison baits set for other animals, and roadkill.

By 2000 it was considered to exist in a heavily fragmented population in which only two groups are large enough to have long-term prospects of genetic viability.

Habitat, description and life cycle

The Iberian Lynx prefers habitats of scrubland and open woods bordering onto pastures or clearings. Each lynx has its own individual area but a male may overlap into the territory of several females. A defended territory may vary from 4 to 20 km2 depending on food availability.

Other than times of breeding and a female raising her young, lynx are solitary mammals.

They are nocturnal cats who feed almost exclusively on a diet of rabbits, occasionally supplemented with young red deer (Cervus elaphus), fallow deer (Dama dama), European hare (Lepus granatensis), red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa), or ducks, depending on the terrain (Doñana) and scarcity of rabbits.

Granada Wildlife can help you find the Iberian Lynx

Ask Mick from Granada Wildlife where to find the Iberian lynx.

The coat of the Iberian Lynx is tawny in colour, marked with dark spots to varying degrees. They have long legs and a relatively small head with tall black ear tufts and a thickly fringed beard running along the jaw bone.

Their body length is around 82-103 cm, height at the shoulder is between 36-55 cm while the distinctive short tail measures only 14 cm.

(Europe has a second Lynx species the Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) which is twice the size and lives in forests in a few parts of Europe and more widely across Asia. Its diet differs in that its prey is mainly deer and hare, supplemented by rabbits.)

A female Iberian Lynx is capable of breeding from the age of one year but this would be rare as firstly she must find a suitable territory. Breeding will normally occur in January with the gestation being approximately two months, the birth of between two to four cubs is normally in March but is also possible later in the summer. The young have their eyes closed for the first 12 days and move around very little. At four weeks they will begin to share the prey brought to the den by the mother and at four months they will learn the skill of hunting. A normal litter will consist of three cubs with the likelihood of one or two surviving to dispersal age, at which point they are in greater danger of running into human threats. They will stay with the mother until she breeds again the following winter, remaining in her territory for a total average of 20 months before dispersing. Iberian Lynx can breed until an age of ten and in favourable circumstances may reach a maximum lifespan of thirteen.

Population decline

This species has suffered much pressure under the hand of man. Their pelts were sought after for trophies and clothing as well as extensive culling due to their perceived damage to livestock.

This decline in their numbers accelerated after 1952 when rabbit populations were decimated by the spread of myxomatosis from France into Spain. (This disease had been introduced by a French Doctor to control rabbit populations on his land.) Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) make up to 90% of a Lynx’s diet and so this had a direct effect on their survival, this disease is still prevalent today.

The reduction of Mediterranean scrubland was also an important factor in restricting their range between 1960 and 1990. At which point a second virus, Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD), had also affected the dwindling rabbit numbers. (RHD reached Spain in 1988).

Suitable habitats for the Lynx are still being reduced by expanding human constructions, building of new roads, flooding valleys by building dams and improvements in agricultural methods as well as destruction by summer fires.

Protected yet still persecuted

Although the Iberian Lynx has been protected legally since 1973 in Spain and 1974 in Portugal accidental killing by using traps, snares and poisoned baits for other predators as well as road kill and illegal hunting have continued to push this species towards extinction.

The two remaining (main) breeding populations; Doñana (on the south west coast near Sevilla) and Andújar Natural Park (near Jaén on the northern Andalusia border) are separated by some 300km. The genetic viability of the current populations could be improved by mixing the bloodlines. (In 2006, a male was trapped from the Andújar area and re-located into the Doñana National Park.) I haven’t seen any results published about this experiment. Have you?

The future for the Iberian lynx?

In order for these last populations to expand, improvements have to be made to supply them with sufficient food and suitable habitat. Intensive agriculture and fast roads can form a barrier to their expansion. More environmentally-friendly farming methods need to be encouraged and tunnels beneath roads would allow a multitude of wildlife to pass as well as strict speed restrictions in known Lynx areas. Healthy rabbit populations need to be established in preparation with education and involvement for landowners to prevent further losses through snares, traps, poisoned bait etc.


Hotels in Lynx country

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Research has shown that the Iberian Lynx does not tolerate other carnivores such as fox (Vulpes vulpes), common genet (Genetta genetta) and Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) to share within its territory as they are competition for food – rabbits. These other predators are either killed or driven away. Therefore domestic stock and wild game are more likely to thrive with a Lynx in the area.

In October of 2007 news was released of a further small population of breeding Iberian Lynx in Castilla La Mancha which is a relatively sparsely populated area of large game reserves. Hopes are high that this will offer further genetic strength to the existing and new breeding programs.

The exact location has not been publicly released and scientific researchers will verify whether these are a natural dispersion from the Andújar population.

Lynx in Portugal

The presence of Iberian lynxes in Portugal, particularly in the south, has been verified and In 2014 the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests signed contracts securing 2,000 hectares of land for Portugal’s reintroduction project.

On 16 December 2014, a pair of Iberian lynx was released into Guadiana Valley Natural Park near Mértola, Portugal. On 7 February 2015, another pair was released into the park, but the female was later found dead on 12 March 2015 after being poisoned in Mértola.

The last pair of captive-bred Iberian lynxes were released into Guadiana Valley Nature Reserve on 12 May 2015.

Now and the future of the Iberian Lynx?

By the end of 2015 there were an estimated 400 lynx on the Iberian peninsula, the vast majority in Andalusia, in southern Spain, but with smaller new populations in the hills near Toledo, in Extremadura (south-western Spain) and in southern Portugal

Iberian lynx can be “sometimes” be observed in captivity at the Jerez Zoo, Lisbon Zoo and Madrid Zoo.

In particular the Jerez animals are of huge importance to the breeding and re introduction program.

The two Lisbon zoo lynxes were formerly in the Portuguese breeding center but were no longer suited for the program (the female had multiple failed pregnancies and the male has a form of epilepsy) The two Madrid lynxes were equally retired from the breeding program for not being suited for reproduction or re release into the wild.

More information is almost always in Spanish apart from what I translate and publish here at Wildside Holidays.

If you understand Spanish then the official website for the Iberian lynx conservation program is

https://www.lynxexsitu.es/index.php

There is also an Iberian Lynx you tube channel run by the same people

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbLEOhNvjK8girFmlZyiPXQ

Any info on Iberian lynx in Spain in English? Leave a comment or email me clive@grazalemaguide.com


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