THE IBERIAN LYNX
LIVING ON A KNIFES EDGE
The Iberian Lynx is in trouble, it has been for a long time, with a steady decline in numbers from around 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, to the darkest years in it's existence to date 1998-2003, when between 75-100 were left in two remnant populations in southern Spain, extinction, hung over it's last numbers, like the Sword of Damocles, was a very real threat. Thankfully numbers are up in the wild, but it still faces a mighty uphill struggle. Man of course, has played the major role in it's demise, in the 20th century, due to hunting and trapping as a way of controlling predators, as the Lynx was seen as vermin, or a source of fur for the fashion industry.
Like certain other animals, the Iberian Lynx is highly dependent on one particular species of prey, and that particular species of late has had plenty to deal with besides being the meal of choice for every Lynx. The European Rabbit is key to the Lynx's survival, it is also a cornerstone species, with a long list of animals and birds deriving a large percentage of their protein from it. The rabbit numbers in Spain have been drastically reduced, first by Myxomatosis in the 1950's and then by the first outbreak of RHD ( rabbit haemorrhagic disease ) also known as RCD ( rabbit calicivirus disease ), also a virus that has first reared it's devastating little head in the winter of 1983 in Jiangsu Province , China, spreading westwards and reaching Europe in 1988, and so adding even more woes to the long list already facing this charismatic feline.
Since the 1988 outbreak of RHD the virus has returned on 2 occasions, 2011-2012, and again in 2013, only this time the new strain was having deadly affects on much younger rabbits, which was not the case in the 2 prior outbreaks, very bad news for all.
Many biologists doubt the Lynx would have survived a second outbreak, if it had arrived on the scene between 1998-2003. Thankfully those dark days of less than 100 cats are past, and the numbers are up in both remnant populations. The larger of these two populations can be found in the Andujar region of Andalucia, with the remainder located in and around Spain's most famous national park, Donana, in Huelva province, Andalucia.
A cat was recently discovered in the Madrid province, near a town only 30 miles south of the capitol, the first time in 40 years one has been recorded here, but as dedicated as the biologists / vets and volunteers are, working tirelessly to save this beautiful feline, they are facing a major uphill battle in the mid to long term survival efforts. This cat is still the unfortunate holder of the title "worlds rarest feline "
Yet, despite the fact that numbers have increased in the wild, due to the most part, to a captive breeding and release program, according to many biologists involved in the breeding program, there is still a strong possibility the species will become extinct in the next 25-50 years. The threats it faces are many, and data from recent research concludes that the effects of climate change will have to be factored into the current and future management strategy, if not, it will be doomed to failure, and the Iberian Lynx will head down the rocky road of no return and join the like's of the Bali Tiger, Barbary Lion, Caspian Tiger, American Cheetah.
The European Rabbit's roll in the survival strategy of the Lynx, cannot be overstated, this small and often taken for granted little mammal, is the key ingredient, no pun intended, for the survival of the Iberian Lynx, it literally is this simple, no Rabbit no Lynx. It was man who pushed the Lynx into it's spiral towards the edge of the Abyss, and although the conservation program has made great progress, ( to date over 100 million euros has been pumped into it ) and we have successfully pulled it back from the brink, since the release of the first captive bred cat in 2010, and the others that have followed, our selfishness and stupidity is still taking a toll on the recovery efforts. The number of Lynx killed by motorists is, in no uncertain terms, is negating so much of the effort that has gone into breeding them and releasing them back into the wild.
In 2014 alone, 22 Lynx died as a result of incidents with traffic. Of course it is inevitable, that some cats would suffer this fate, but having spent 12 years in Andalucia, and visited the Donana area on numerous occasions I can testify that despite signs along the roads in the area, clearly announcing the presence of Lynx, far too many drivers ignore the speed limit, thereby increasing the chances of being able to brake in time to avoid the collision, that always end with the cat coming off worse. There are still farmers and hunters who lay illegal traps, snares and poisoned bait, this still happens in many parts of Spain, and the authorities face a constant battle against these mindless idiots who use cruel and inhumane methods to achieve their goals. A lot more is needed, breeding them and releasing them is one thing, but many vital lessons have to be learned, whole communities educated, old habits die hard, but die they must, because whole communities will prosper in many ways from the reintroduction of this beautiful cat, the ecosystem always benefits from predators, the money from the ever increasing numbers of ecotourism, will revitalize many small poorer areas, it is a win win situation, not least for the lynx.
The Iberian Peninsula covers a huge area, there is plenty of space for all, my only hope is the powers that be and all the dedicated people involved in this fantastic program, can achieve their goal of reintroducing this beautiful feline back into much of it's historical territory, especially in the northern regions, as the climate change research has concluded that this is where the Lynx will stand it's best chance of surviving in the long term..........We live in hope.