Friday, December 20, 2013

Iberian Lynx Threatened by a New Strain of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease

An Iberian lynx kitten and a European rabbit

It has been recently reported that the Iberian lynx is facing a threat of prey loss caused by a new kind of rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), which is affecting Spain's rabbit population. One notable place that is severely affected by the disease is the natural park of Sierra de Andujar, which is also a major lynx preserve in the Andalusian province of Jaen. The park has been recorded to contain 53 fertile females last year, while Donana National Park has counted only 25 females. The lack of prey spells major trouble for the lynx's reproduction, especially during mating season which takes place in December. In addition, the disease could also impact species recovery plans such as the Life Iberlince program which was able to triple the lynx population in the last ten years. A census in 2012 recorded 305 individuals. Last year, 44 newborn kittens survived the affect of the disease. This year's figures will not be definite until the end of December, but sources secretly said that there are no more than ten youngsters.
The European rabbit is one of several prey species that forms the staple diet of the Iberian lynx

Researchers are also worried that if the Iberian lynx does not find its prey, it may travel outside its natural habitat exposing itself to the risk of being road-killed which accounts to 33 percent of its mortality. This year so far, thirteen lynxes had been killed by vehicles. It is said that the regional government of Andalusia is working fast on special measures to halt the decline of the rabbit population. According to Miguel Angel Simon, coordinator of the Iberlince program, the plan will be to return fencing which was implemented in 2002 to repopulate the area with rabbits and assure that the food is not affected. However, the real effects of prey shortage will not be felt until March 2014 when the breeding season begins. In the last few months, the Andalusian environment department has been observing the rabbit populations and affirmed a major decrease in density. Several resources stated that the new brand of RHD has been found in twelve of the thirteen samples collected in Donana and Sierra de Andujar. In 2010 and 2011, two other onsets of the disease resulted in a large population drop. This new disease type now adds to the old one, which primarily affects adult rabbits. The most latest form of disease was first noted in the wild at rabbit farms about a year ago.
A cryoEM reconstruction of  the RHD virus

This article clearly indicates that it is a race against time to save both predator and prey from a disease epidemic that is affecting both organisms. This new type of RHD has been ravaging Spain's rabbit population for quite sometime. Earlier, this disease affected only adult rabbits but now this new type has placed itself with the old type affecting young rabbits less than thirty days old. The disease is known to cause jaundice and nasal hemorrhaging in rabbits. In addition, I feel that this disease would not only affect the lynx population in Spain but other carnivores such as weasels, martens, badgers, foxes, bears, wildcats, and even the endemic Iberian wolf. The Environment Ministry of Spain will be meeting with the flora and fauna and hunting committees in January, along with animal health specialists to find ways to combat this new disease type. In addition, Andalusian authorities have also scheduled another meeting in February 2014 as part of the Iberlince project which functions on a budget of 34 million euros over the 2011-2016 period. I certainly hope that various groups involved in efforts to fight the disease will come up with some kind of solution, but in the meantime, the focus should be on monitoring the lynxes to see where in Spain they are going and what measurements should be conducted to ensure their survival as they wonder about in parts of the country.

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