The Iberian lynx is the world's most endangered cat. It is the most threatened carnivore in Europe. Sadly, conservationists believe it could be extinct within as little as five years time, with only 150 or so remaining. There are various projects currently in process to save this species from completely disappearing. On the plus side, The Iberian lynx is now protected by law and can no longer be legally hunted. Better late than never, but let us hope, not too late...
The Iberian lynx, Lynx pardinus, has been on this earth since the Pleistocene period, over one million years a go. It was separated from the Eurasian lynx through habitat choice, preferring grassland and large shrubs and a warmer climate. The Eurasian lynx likes thick forest and has evolved in colder environments. It seems probable that the exposed chosen terrain has been an unwise choice, as the Eurasian lynx is abundant and thriving well... The Iberian lynx, however, is not doing so well.
Some of the challenges that the Iberian lynx face are purely nature. But, humans have also had a very strong hand in the drastic decline... Mainly poachers, traffic, humans moving in to the cats' terrain and poisoning. The pelts are still sold for a good price on the black market and due to the distinctive spots on the cats' coat, they are in high demand. It would most likely take between eight to twelve lynxes to make a coat or jacket. Although, some illegal hunters just love a trophy to hang on their wall...
Nature plays her part too, loss of prey and competition for prey. The Iberian lynx enjoys smaller animals such as rabbits, hares, reptiles, young fallow deer or a juicy duck. The favourite and most popular is rabbit. But, they suffer badly with diseases (myxomatosis) and are also favoured by the Red fox and feral dogs. Conservationists have started a new program to help the situation, by distributing vaccinated rabbits in to the lynxes' territory. Thus, being part of a longer term plan, in the hope that the bunnies will breed successfully, enabling the lynx to survive. (A male lynx needs one rabbit a day and a female, raising cubs, would need at least three rabbits). Also this would prevent the cat from attacking other animals such as small deers, which have become prey due to the loss of rabbits. The deer are harder to catch and sometimes the lynx will have go for days without nourishment.
During the mating season the female leaves her territory in search of a male. The typical gestation time is about two months; the cubs are born between March and September. A litter consists of two to three kittens... There have been stories of kittens vanishing without a trace, which has baffled many scientists. Although, some have theories and studies have acknowledged the behaviour of cats in ongoing breeding programmes. Conservationists are attempting to identify the mystery disappearances of young lynxes. So far, it has been suggested that it could be a hierarchy between cubs which have been witnessed fighting to the last breath at three to four months old. Still, very unusual though. What actually happens to the corpse? Does the mother eat it? It is unknown why these aggressive episodes occur. Could it be a change in hormones when the cubs switch from milk to meat? Could this be Mother nature telling us that the Iberian lynxes' time on this earth is up? I do not believe so.
There is evidence to support the fact that humans have changed the Iberian lynxes' destiny considerably since the nineteen fourties. Also, had I mentioned that these cats have been padding around for over one million years without our interference...? Few Iberian lynx die of natural causes. Changes in vegetation for example, introducing wheat programmes and eucalyptus plantations and the conversion of native trees to pine forests, have been part of the decline. Other related problems are trapping, shooting and snaring. In some cases the deaths are accidental. However, in Donana National Park for instance, between 1983 and 1989, twenty four lynx (11 tagged) died in the park and only three were of natural causes... Strange.. So, the lynx populations on the Iberian Peninsula have been greatly reduced. Currently, they exist in small, isolated and highly fragmented areas. These localised populations are vulnerable to extinction because of their small numbers, as a single epidemic could wipe out the remaining individuals. Not forgetting the obvious reality of habitat deterioration. (1)(2)
On a lighter note, The Spanish government are now actively operating a breeding programme bringing new hope to this endangered species.
I do not want to be part of a generation that has allowed, through ignorance and a lack of understanding, our beautiful wild animals to disappear. I am merely a small voice but hopefully can send out ripples of enthusiasm and awareness through my love of cats..
(1) Sunquist, Mel, Sunquist, Fiona, 2002.Wild Cats of the World. Chicago press.
(2) Gaona, P., P. Ferreras, and M. Delibes, 1998. Dynamics and Viability of a metapopulation of the endangered Iberian lynx.