New lease of life for Iberian lynx

30th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

Triplets born in captivity in Spain in a world first gave new hope for the survival of the Iberian lynx, only weeks after wildlife experts warned it could become the first large cat to be wiped out since prehistoric times.

The Iberian lynx

The three cubs were born Monday in a large enclosure in the Donana national park to mother Saliega and father Garfio, the environment ministry said.

The parents had been caught in the Sierra Morena region and taken to the El Acebuche captivity centre in the park in south-western Spain in January 2003 and February 2004 respectively.

There are as few as 100 to 120 of the leopard-spotted cats in the wild, including around a dozen breeding-age females, from about 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, the latest report by SOS Lynx found.

Hunting, road deaths, and most of all a sharp drop due to disease in the number of wild rabbits, the lynx's main prey, has led to the disappearance of the cat, it said.

"It is not in Africa, Latin America or Asia where the first big cat extinction in modern times is likely to occur, but within the borders of the rich, supposedly 'developed' and environmentally-friendly European Union," wrote the report's author, British conservation consultant Dan Ward.

The nocturnal cat, which can grow to about one meter (three feet) long and weigh about 13 kilogrammes (29 pounds) -- about the size of a domestic dog -lives in scrub forest in southern Portugal and south-western Spain, near some of Europe's most popular tourist resorts.

Viable breeding populations however only exist now in two locations in Spain, and the up to 40 cats found in one of them, in the Donana park, could disappear in the next few years, Ward said.

"Only four to eight cubs were born there this year and the population is not being well managed, is still declining and is already too small, fragmented and isolated to be recovered in the future without drastic intervention," he wrote.

The other breeding population found at a park in Andujar is more stable, with around 80 mature individuals, but this group is under threat from plans to build two motorways in the area as well as from increased urbanisation, the study said.

Eduardo Goncalves, the president of SOS Lynx which is fighting to save the animal, said 30 lynxes have been killed by cars in Donana since the 1980s, and the planned new roads at Andujar would have disastrous consequences.

"If they go ahead it would be the end of the lynx," he said.
 
The World Wide Fund for Nature, which has urged Spanish officials to close a road which crosses Donana, accused the European Union of contributing to the decline of the species by funding road and dam developments in key lynx habitats.

There are currently 12 lynxes in captivity-including four females- spread over several centres in Spain and the goal is to increase this number to 70 by 2010 when reintroductions into the wild could begin.

The Iberian lynx is classified as critically endangered- the highest category of endangerment for an animal still found in the wild- by the World Conservation Union.

30 March 2005

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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