From 62 to Over 2,000: Iberian Lynx Defies the Odds in Remarkable Recovery

3 mins

Thanks to conservation efforts Iberian Lynx numbers have jumped up from less that a hundred to more than 2,000 in just 22 years

The Iberian lynx – threatened with extinction less that a quarter of a century ago – is back from the brink across Spain and Portugal.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced the significant milestone for the rarest cat species in the world reclassifying it from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ on the global red list of threatened species.

Conservation efforts, including habitat restoration, prey population management and reintroductions, have led to an exponential increase in the population from 62 mature individuals in 2001 to over 2,000 today with the overwhelming majority – almost 86 per cent – found in Spain.

However, despite this progress, the Iberian lynx still faces ongoing threats such as habitat loss due to wildfires, which are exacerbated by the climate crisis.

Their numbers plummeted during the 20th century, as thousands were killed because of Franco-era laws to get rid of creatures deemed to be vermin. Others died out because of catastrophic, disease-driven drops in the rabbit populations that make up 90 per cent of the lynx’s diet, and because of the destruction of the cat’s habitats.

Iberian lynx adult with two young in nature

Since 2010, more than 400 of these elusive cats have been successfully reintroduced to parts of Portugal and Spain, allowing them to reclaim over 3,000 square kilometers of their former range.

Ramón Pérez de Ayala, the World Wildlife Fund’s Spain species project manager, noted the importance of careful planning and protocol revisions, saying, ‘We have to consider every single thing before releasing a lynx, and every four years or so we revise the protocols.’

Iberian Lynx conservation complications

Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the red list unit at IUCN, said the  leap in numbers was due to collaborative initiatives to expand and diversify lynx numbers and populations across different areas, build up rabbit numbers, and raise awareness.

‘Over the next 100 years, we can probably get to the lynx being fully recovered in its native range,’ he said.

‘Climate change is the worrying factor because we don’t know what it’s going to do – we’ve seen an increase in fires in the Mediterranean area, so how that’s going to impact on the lynx is yet to be determined. So this is a huge success but there’s a long way to go to get the species back to where it should be.’

Javier Salcedo, the coordinator of the  EU-funded Life Lynxconnect project, said tracking the animals had revealed the grave threat to the population

He explained: ‘The hardest part was the start at the beginning of this century, everyone knew the Iberian lynx was threatened but we didn’t really realise how complicated the situation was.

 ‘The tracking projects and census that were carried out at the beginning of the 21st century showed us that the situation was far worse than anyone imagined. There were only two populations – in Andújar-Cardeña and in Doñana, both in Andalucía – and there were barely 100 lynxes.’

Salcedo said he was heartened by the progress made to save ‘an iconic part of Iberian wildlife’, but there was no room for complacency.

‘Let’s not forget that there’s still much to be done,’ he said. ‘And even when it’s all done, we’ll need to carry on working so that this doesn’t all happen again.’

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