In the early 1900’s, thousands of Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) were on the prowl throughout Portugal and Spain.
Measuring just under a yard in length and sporting yellowish to tawny colored fur with spots, the animal fed mostly on rabbits — but got a bad reputation for preying on livestock as well. That, naturally, made it vermin to farmers, while hunters love to bag them as nice trophies to taxidermy.
Sadly, the Iberian lynx declined to a point where in the 1970’s conservationists had to take action to get it legally protected. Although they successfully labeled it “protected,” that did little to help lynx numbers for the remainder of the century. By 2002, only 94 Iberian lynx were left in Spain, and in Portugal they became all but extinct.
Since that low point, however, the cat has bounced back. Thanks to human ingenuity and commonsense stewardship practices, there are now an estimated 1,000 Iberian lynx on the peninsula, with about 154 in Portugal’s Guadiana Valley. This remarkable comeback has pushed the cat up on the IUCN Red List from being “critically endangered” to “endangered.”
So what actions helped bring back the Iberian lynx? The online publication Mongabay reports there were a number of different stewardship strategies employed:
- “Roads were a key part of this problem, obstructing the genetic exchange between different individuals and resulting in deaths from vehicle collisions. In Spain, building wildlife tunnels beneath busy highways has helped address the problem, and Portugal plans on emulating this solution.”
- “A large proportion of potential lynx territory is privately owned, where landowners see more profit in cultivating olive groves and vineyards, turning the landscape into monocultures — barren land from a conservation perspective. To prevent this loss of viable habitat, the ICNF encouraging landowners to return to more traditional agroforestry systems called montados: a mosaic landscape characterized by low-density tree cover combined with agricultural or pastoral activities.”
- “As part of the lynx reintroduction program, conservationists are also trying to boost the rabbit population. In Alentejo, these efforts are sold as a win-win all around: for the residents, rabbit has long been a cherished game animal and part of the traditional cuisine. Many landowners have now built artificial tunnels for the rabbits in the extremely compact soil, and provide guided tours to visitors keen to spot lynx.”
- “There are currently four captive-breeding centers for the Iberian lynx: three in Spain and one in Portugal. The selection of animals for breeding and for release is determined by the Iberian Lynx Captive Breeding Committee, or CCCLI by its Spanish acronym. It brings together technical and scientific representatives from Spain and Portugal, who decide which animals will be released and where, to maximize the genetic diversity of the wild populations.”
To read the entire story in Mongabay, click here.