Monday, July 27, 2015

Iberian Lynx Returns from the Brink of Extinction

An Iberian lynx family

An intensive conservation campaign over recent years has brought the Iberian lynx back from the brink of extinction, with 327 animals thought to be roaming central, southern, and western Spain, as well as parts of Portugal. This figure is of significant importance because ten years ago, the population of this magnificent cat was on the verge of extinction with just 90 individuals present in the Andujar and Donana areas of southern Spain. In June, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) improved the Iberian lynx's status from "critically endangered" to "endangered." In its judgment, the organization viewed the lynx's recovery as "excellent proof that conservation really works." Roughly 140 individuals have been released into the wild, with the Iberian wildcat program acquiring reintroduction methods used by German conservationists. It is said that the Iberian lynx conservation program will have received 69 million euros in funding, primarily from the European Union between 2002 and 2018. Majority of that money has gone into three breeding centers in Spain, including one in Santa Elena and one in Portugal. According to the conservation program's veterinarian Teresa del Rey Wamba, illegal poaching and lack of proper prey were major problems before the lynx's recent comeback. The key to the success of the Iberian lynx's comeback was attributed to curbing poaching and encouraging increase in European rabbit populations. This meant that the program received support from hunting federations, local governments, and private landowners.
An Iberian lynx
A lynx breeding center in Santa Elena.

An Iberian lynx being treated for its injuries.
However, not all is good news. Last year, 22 lynxes were killed by vehicles on roads. Miguel Simon, the director of the Iberian lynx conservation program, vehicular accidents indicate how the lynxes' movement has expanded as their numbers have increased. In order to tackle this issue, Simon and his team supervised the setting up of underground tunnels for the lynxes to cross busy roads. It is even planned to construct more of these custom-made tunnels. In addition, there is also a major concern about a recent outbreak of rabbit hemorrhagic disease across Europe which has been eliminating the lynxes' necessary diet since 2011 and diminishing their reproductive rate. Emilio Virgos, a lynx expert from Madrid's King Juan Carlos University, indicated that the IUCN's decision to change the Iberian lynx's status was wrong due to this threat. He warned that the number of lynxes will fluctuate drastically if the data about how the animals live, reproduce, and survive is correct and that there is a possibility of an extinction within decades.
Veterinarian Maria Jose Perez (left) and Iberian lynx conservation program director Miguel Simon (right) at a breeding center.
A young captive Iberian lynx
Map of Spain

The Iberian lynx has recently made a successful comeback due to a significant increase in its population from 90 a decade ago, to around 327 today. This is a tremendous news for conservationists and wildlife experts around the world, but that does not mean this cat is fully recovered. There is still an ongoing threat of vehicular accidents along busy roads in its native habitat, but probably the biggest matter of concern is the rabbit hemorrhagic disease. This disease is known to affect the European rabbit population, which the lynx relies on as a staple source of food. So if the rabbit population decreases, it is followed by lynx population. Increasing the rabbit population is only a temporary solution, which does not help on the long-run. It is crucial to thoroughly analyze the rabbit hemorrhagic disease and conduct research in order to develop a potential vaccine to eradicate it. This would not only save the Iberian lynx population, but also other predator populations in and beyond the Iberian Peninsula. Furthermore, the IUCN should keep in contact with conservationists, researchers, and anybody involved in the conservation of the Iberian lynx and be prepared for what information they have concerning the cat and how it can help determine its status. Population figures are not the only components that help determine a species' status. Other factors that should be considered are the species' reproduction rate and survival rate.

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