Three cats from the world’s most endangered species have been released into the wild in Spain from a captive breeding program.
The Iberian lynx, once widespread across Spain and Portugal, were down to just 100 by 2005 — there were 4,000 in 1960. Scientists were forced to take drastic action and captured many from the wild population and put them in a captive breeding program.
Miguel Simon, director of the Lynx Life project, said:
“The situation was really dramatic: there were only two populations left in the wild. In order to preserve this species, we had to create a captive population in case the wild population became extinct.”
That breeding program has proved successful and the early April release is the first of several planned for this year.
The cat’s decline was down to habitat loss, poisoning, road casualties, feral dogs and poaching. Its habitat loss is due mainly to infrastructure improvement, urban and resort development and tree monocultivation, which serves to break the lynx’s distribution area. It has also suffered the loss of its main food source: rabbits, which were wiped out by disease.
Due to work protecting the habitat over the past decade, the wild population is now believed to be up to 300.
The three lynx were released in early April into a protected area in Sierra Morena, a hilly, forested region, packed with shade for the cats to sleep in when the sun becomes unbearably hot — and it has plenty of rabbits.
The Lynx Life team admits that radical intervention like this is a last resort. But if it works, these cats could be the first of many to roam free once again.
If the lynx went extinct it would be the first cat extinction (that we know of) since that of the saber-toothed cat at the end of the ice age.
Watch ‘SOS Lynx – The fight to save the Iberian Lynx’:
Picture by Nutxlago
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