Expatica news

The miracle that has driven the Iberian Lynx’s recovery in the Algarve and Alentejo

The daily life of biologists and veterinarians in Silves and Mértola, the two main Portuguese locations contributing to the rescue of an almost extinct species, has finally begun to pay off.

After two decades of hard work, the wild feline has all the conditions to regain control of the territory that it once belonged to.

In the region of Mértola alone there are over a hundred of the lynxes roaming the hills, and the scenario continues to improve: this year, 46 lynxes were born in that area of ??Alentejo thanks to the centre’s breeding programme.

Behind these advances is a team of biologists and veterinarians working to prepare the young animals for the day that they will be released into the wild. There are 16 wire-lined enclosures, with surveillance cameras that monitor the cats’ behaviour 24 hours a day.

The breeding centre in Silves has even been said to look like a high-security prison from the inside, but is in fact a sort of genetic safeguarding facility, responsible for one of the most successful species recovery projects in Europe.

The National Centre for Reproduction of the Iberian Lynx (CNRLI) is located in the hills between the reservoirs of the Funcho and Arade dam, and has 30 specimens of this species that, at the beginning of the millennium, were almost wiped out of existence, with less than 100 animals in the Iberian Peninsula at the turn of the millennium.

The Portuguese centres are part of a wider Iberian network, with four more centres in Spain, in Andalusia, Extremadura and Castilla la Mancha. “From these centres, 248 specimens were released. From Silves alone, 69 have been sent out in to nature,” said Rodrigo Serra, director of the CNRLI and one of the people who has been part of the project since the beginning.

“When we started in 2003, there were only 25 breeding females worldwide. The animal was in extreme danger of disappearing,” he says.

In Portugal, it is the region of the Guadiana Valley, namely the municipalities of Mértola, Serpa and Castro Verde, where most of the Iberian lynxes have been released.

The process of reintroducing the lynx into the wild on Portuguese soil began in late 2014. “The first breeding pair were first placed in an adaptation enclosure in Mértola, which was then opened in 2015, leaving the animals to run free,” recalls Pedro Sarmento , biologist at the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) and one of the pioneers in the recovery work of the species that went from critically endangered to endangered.

Currently, 105 animals live in this area alone, more than those that existed around the world when they started the animal reproduction and reintroduction projects in the wild. According to experts, between Portugal and Spain, out of captivity there are more than 650 specimens. Six times more than at the beginning of the millennium.

This year’s censuses will give official figures, but the outlook is broadly positive. “It is possible that within a few years the Iberian lynx will have grown to the status of vulnerable species and it is also possible that, a few more decades, cease to be threatened and therefore not have any threat status,” he believes.