A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
Challenges in Iberian Lynx Conservation
October 5, 2010Posted by on
The Iberian Lynx is a naturally vulnerable species because of its dependence on only one prey species, the rabbit. The dramatic decline in rabbit populations, caused by habitat changes and disease have therefore had a direct impact on lynx numbers. Over-hunting of rabbits and other human activities have further compounded the problems of prey scarcity.
More than 40 separate Iberian lynx populations appear to have collapsed since the early 1980s. Heavier and faster traffic is also taking an unacceptably high toll on lynx each year as juveniles venture away from their areas of birth in search of new habitats. This high mortality has been an important factor in the decline of the species.
The Iberian Lynx received protection against hunting in the early 1970s and since then hunting has dropped off. However, some lynxes are still shot and killed in traps and snares set for smaller predators, particularly on commercial hunting and shooting estates. Public awareness and education programs have helped change attitudes towards the lynx, particularly among private landowners in lynx areas.
Over the past 5 years, the Iberian Lynx captive breeding centres in Spain have created a captive breeding population of 60+ individuals, spread across three facilities. In 2009, an additional centre was opened in Portugal. Despite these successes however, 2010 has been one of the most challenging, due to a kidney disease that killed four cats and left a further 10 very weak and not likely to survive. The disease has been detected in around 40% of the lynx in the captive breeding program. Following investigations, the cause of the kidney disease was confirmed to come from feeding supplements given to the cats, which are no longer being used.
Eight new cubs were successfully born and raised this year, all at the La Olivilla centre in Andalucia. In addition, the first cubs were born at Zoo Jerez and at the new centre in Portugal, and, although these cubs were subsequently lost, this was an important milestone for both these breeding centres. The captive breeding population now numbers some 77 individuals, its highest yet, of which 45 were bred in captivity. The captive population now exceeds the number recommended by the IUCN for the breeding program to supply individuals for reintroduction.
The first reintroductions of Iberian Lynx into a new area were carried out in December 2009 with six individuals from the Sierra Morena population translocated into Guadalmellato in Cordoba province, in northern Andalucia. These lynx were initially placed in pairs in large acclimatisation enclosures, where they were carefully monitored by project personnel, before being released into the surrounding area.
In addition, another female lynx was translocated from Donana directly into the Guadalmellato area in March 2010.
The released lynx not only established themselves in the target area but exceeded expectations by breeding and producing the first wild born cubs from reintroduced lynx. In addition, the female lynx translocated from Donana has been observed travelling all the way to the current Andujar-Cardena population, demonstrating a connection between current and newly-created lynx areas.
The six initially reintroduced Iberian Lynx were male-female pairs: Elron & Eclipse; Cascabel & Diana, and Caberu & Charquena. Following signs of copulation and pregnancy, the male lynx from each pair were radio-collared and released from their enclosures in April. Then, from August onwards, the females were also allowed to leave their enclosures, and two new cubs were observed with Charquena. A previous ultrasound had confirmed that Eclipse was also pregnant, although her cubs had not been observed by personnel by the summer.
It is planned that in all 20 lynx will be reintroduced into Guadalmellato over the next four years, and that through reintroductions and further wild breeding, the population can be expanded to around 40 individuals, at which point it should become stable in the long term.
Simultaneously, lynx will be reintroduced into a second site – Guarrizas – also with the aim of producing a stable population of around 40 individuals. All cats are being followed by radio-transmitter and camera traps.
- August 2010 – male lynx Cascabel was found dead, the first loss of the reintroduction program. He was born in the wild population, and spent a year in the captive breeding program before his reintroduction.
- September 2010 – one year old male Fado found dead in a small cave with difficult access, male Caribu found dead a year after his release, female Esponja and male Fario also found dead.
For more information:
Lynx LIFE Website (Spanish/English)