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Spanish Lynx, can they survive

 

The Iberian, or Spanish, Lynx is currently the most endangered wild cat in the world. They look like a smaller version of the Eurasian lynx, yet closer in size to the Canadian Lynx, and have similar diets as well, since they rely on rabbits for a large part of their diet. Their ecology is very different from the Eurasian lynx though. The Eurasian lynx is a forest animal which preys on ungulates, the Iberian lynx is found in scrub vegetation and preys almost exclusively on European rabbits.

 

Spanish Lynx have a coat color of yellowish to reddish-brown, patterned with many dark spots, and white underpants. They have the typical look of the lynx species, with a flared facial ruff, long, dark ear tufts, and a very short, dark tipped tail.

 

The majority of den sites have been found at the base of an old, hollow cork oak tree, indicating how important these trees are to the female. The peak birthing season is March and April in central and southern Spain. Kittens stay in the natal den for the first 20 days, after which they are moved to as many as three or four other dens, giving them more room as they grow, and to help protect them against being discovered by predators. It may also help avoid parasite build up in any single den. Kittens are eating solid food by 28 days but will nurse for 3-4 months.

Spanish Lynx become independent at 7 to 10 months. Females are normally able to breed in their first winter. In a high-density population, age at first reproduction depends upon when a female acquires a territory. This normally occurs because of either death or expulsion of a resident. One female did not reproduce until five years of age, and this only occurred when the mother died and left the territory vacant.

Spanish Lynx prefer areas of native Mediterranean woodlands and thick, shrubby areas, especially for resting during the day. They move along the edges of meadows and more open grassland areas around dusk and dawn to hunt. Only when the rabbit population crashes due to viral outbreaks, do they look to other prey such as small rodents, birds, and the young of wild boar, red deer, fallow deer, chamois and moufflon sheep.

The decline of the Spanish Lynx population since the 1960s has been primarily caused by habitat loss and a decline of their main prey species, the European rabbit. Nevertheless, there are some areas where habitat quality and rabbit density appear sufficient, yet no lynx are found. Particularly in these areas, it seems that humans are directly responsible for an high level of Spanish Lynx mortality.

The Spanish government is in the process of developing a national conservation strategy for the Iberian lynx, with the goal of enabling the lynx to occupy as large a range as possible on a permanent basis. Management measures will be applied first to the largest population nuclei (the eastern Sierra Morena, the Toledo Mountains, the corridors between these two zones, and certain parts of Extremadura). Measures include completion of detailed surveys of the conditions faced by each lynx sub-population (land use, land ownership, habitat condition, rabbit density); banning rabbit trapping; taking active steps to increase rabbit populations (such as brush clearance); and establishment of a captive breeding program (now underway).

There are less than 100 Iberian Lynx left in the world today. The population is becoming increasingly fragmented, so that it is more and more of a challenge for cats to find each other to mate. They are also forced to move through more and more developed areas, and thus come into contact with humans and vehicles. Besides habitat loss, major threats include road development, being caught in traps meant for other animals, and illegal shooting.

Efforts by ICONA (the Spanish National Nature Conservation Institute) to improve conditions in Donana National Park, one of the last strongholds of this exquisite species, include increasing rabbit numbers by improving habitat conditions as well as removing some grazing animals to decrease competition for food with rabbits. In areas surrounding the Park, efforts are being  made to  decrease lynx's  traffic fatalities,  and to eliminate trapping of rabbits and other animals, and initiate a campaign of environmental awareness. There are also plans to promote genetic exchange through the creation of natural habitat corridors between populations. Finally, a last ditch effort is being made to establish a captive breeding group of Iberian Lynx, made up of injured and non releasable animals.

Iberian Lynx are placed on Appendix I of CITES, and are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List. They are being given the highest priority in terms of protection and research.