Iberian Lynx 2016 – facts and figures of the latest monitoring
About 404 (not less, probably more) Iberian Lynx are left in the wild on the Iberian peninsula. This figure is the result of the most recent monitoring (2015) on the total number of Lynx in Spain and Portugal. The two known populations remain in Andujar and Cota Donana – a count of 176 Lynx in the former and 76 in the latter. The remaining 152 are reintroductions in different areas. Plus there are 94 animals in various breeding centres. About half of these captive animals will be used for further reintroductions.
Andujar and Donana still their main strongholds
Within both these remaining strongholds everything is being done to help ensure the long term survival of the Lynx. This ranges from stabilising their main food source to building structures that help lynx cross busy roads safely. In Donana in particular, a very busy tourist area, Lynx have frequently been killed when crossing roads as they traverse their territory or go in search of new territory. In fact road traffic accidents are probably the biggest single cause of death for lynx. So specific measures have been put in place along some of the busiest roads that criss cross the area just beyond the main Cota Donana National Park boundaries. Road fences, tunnels and bridges have been constructed for the Lynx to use (and fortunately they often do use them), warning signs are in place to make drivers aware of the cats presence and it is hoped that drivers will modify their driving accordingly.
In Andujar (Sierra Morena) it’s all about boosting the main prey item – the rabbit – through captive breeding programmes in specific breeding centres. Bred rabbits are then released in the areas where the Lynx are. To help further the construction of artificial rabbit warrens also takes place on private land owned by the big landowners of the region. Although Lynx will take rodents and birds it’s known that rabbits are the prime food source and increasing the supply of rabbits is the number one aid to their continued survival. To remain fit and healthy, and for successfull breeding, a Lynx needs to eat at least one rabbit per day. In the absence of rabbits Lynx do not reproduce, they often leave their territories in search of a better food supply or they die of starvation. Too summarise: providing a healthy rabbit population is one of the most important measures that can be undertaken, not only in Andujar, but also elsewhere in Iberia to help Lynx survive and colonise new areas.
Rabbit numbers are low as rabbit populations are affected by outbreaks of myxomatosis and recently a new and very deadly disease – rabbit haemorrhagic disease – has reduced the population of healthy rabbits. No rabbits equals no Lynx! In recent years the reintroduction of Lynx has taken place in five different locations. In other areas of the Sierra Morena, in Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha and to boost the existing population in the Cota Donana. The fifth location is in Portugal where the Lynx once lived but became extinct fairly recently. Good news is that many of the reintroduced animals are not only surviving but breeding.
What about the future of the worlds rarest felid?
The situation at present seems to be a stable, if not a slowly increasing, population but the future is still uncertain and anything but rosy. Much effort by individuals and organisations, including European Union funding, has aided this situation over the past few years. The breeding centres, the continuous introduction of rabbits in core areas of Lynx populations, road fences, bridges and tunnels have all contributed to survival of the Iberian Lynx. They have been saved from the brink of extinction – the position they were in at the end of the 1990s. The total population back then was just 86 individuals. Imagine that if Europe had lost one of its large carnivores due to neglect by humans – a travesity indeed.
Despite all the best efforts and measures over the past decade the total number of Lynx hasn’t reached the necessary, self-sustaining and viable goal of 500 individuals. Scientists agree that the Lynx population can, only from that number onwards, be able to survive itself. The creation of wildlife corridors to connect different sub populations, remains the biggest stumbling block and challenge for the future.
But above all, let us be positive: the Lynx have over the last few years been in a well-deserved spotlight and, despite their vulnerable situation and set-backs, is just about doing better than just holding on! Many tour leaders within our team have in recent years shown EB5 tour participants this iconic cat: an experience beyond all expectations!