Iberian lynx Mammals of Spain - Reintroducion of Iberian lynx. Wildlife, natural parks and culture in Spain

Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) Lince Ibérico

Overview

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

Once found throughout Spain and Portugal. the Iberian lynx began to decline in the first half of the 20th century due to over hunting and trapping for the fur trade. This decline was hugely accelerated after the 1950’s with the spread of myxomatosis. A disease which decimated populations of the European rabbit, the lynx’s main prey.

From the 1980’s the Iberian lynx was considered by IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) to be critically endangered and became known as the world’s most threatened cat species.

However, as a result of the increasing population size, the Iberian Lynx no longer qualifies for IUCN Critically Endangered status and is therefore listed as Endangered under criterion D. The improved status of this species is all due to various intensive and ongoing conservation programs.

Current populations and programs

Project LifeLynxConnect (2020 to 2025)
The Iberian lynx 2024 population census

Read the 2024 Iberian lynx census here.

Conservation Success: Iberian Lynx Numbers Reach Historic High in 2024 census
The Iberian Lynx 2022 Census

The 2022 Iberian lynx census brings great news from Portugal and Spain. The total lynx population now stands at 1,668, including 1,105 adults and immatures, along with 563 cubs. Notably, the census records 326 reproductive or “territorial” females. This Iberian Lynx News Roundup 2023 has been translated from the official Life LYNXCONNECT project website.

Read the census translated to English here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/iberian-lynx-news-roundup-2023-positive-census-results-and-conservation-efforts/

The population figures at the end of 2021 were
  • 1365 Lynx in the wild in 2021
  • 4452km2 Distribution range size in 2021
  • 340+ Lynx released since 2010
  • 500 Cubs born in 2021

(With about 150 in captive breeding programs…)

There is a very good article here in Spanish detailing the distribution of the Iberian lynx: https://www.ellinceiberico.com/poblaciones-lince-iberico/


Keep up to date with news and information about the Iberian Lynx and other Iberian wildlife at the Iberia Nature Forum: https://iberianatureforum.com/forums/topic/how-many-iberian-lynx-are-there-in-iberia/


Iberian lynx in Castilla la Mancha

Castilla-La Mancha, a region in central Spain, is home to the Iberian lynx, one of the most endangered feline species in the world. Thanks to a reintroduction program launched in 2014, the region now boasts a population estimated at over 582 individuals, including 223 cubs born in 2022. In this latest phase of the project, called “Life Lynx Connect,” three lynx are being released in the area, including a pair of one year old lynx named Tempo and Tesla. These releases mark another milestone in the ongoing effort to recover the Iberian lynx population in Castilla-La Mancha. Read more here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/iberian-lynx-population-in-castilla-la-mancha/

A bit of history about the Iberian lynx

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.

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

Booking.com

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.

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

As of 2020, there were around 140 individuals in the wild in Portugal spread through an area of approximately 50,000 hectares, 50 of them cubs

The future for the Iberian Lynx?

A 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. Now in 2023 with more than a thousand lynx in the wild, the future is looking a lot brighter

Further reading about the Iberian Lynx

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

Project LifeLynxConnect

The current official website (2020 to 2025) for the Iberian lynx conservation program is: https://lifelynxconnect.eu/

(The latest population figures are 1111 Iberian lynx in the wild with about 150 In captive breeding programs…) 2020 data

There is a very good article here in Spanish detailing the distribution of the Iberian lynx: https://www.ellinceiberico.com/poblaciones-lince-iberico/

Older projects now finished but with live websites.
There is also an Iberian Lynx you tube channel run by the same people
Wikipedia has a pretty good entry that gets updated fairly often:

There is also a pretty good blog/shop/forum (In Spanish) with good information about the Iberian Lynx here: https://www.ellinceiberico.com/lince-iberico-informacion/

Have you seen an Iberian lynx in Spain? Leave a comment or email me clive@wildsideholidays.co.uk


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