What threatens the last specimens of Iberian lynx



by LORENZO CIOTTI

What threatens the last specimens of Iberian lynx

Until the mid-19th century, the Iberian lynx was widespread throughout Spain, but now its range is restricted to some very small areas and it reproduces in only two areas of Andalusia, in southern Spain. The Iberian lynx prefers heterogeneous environments consisting of open grassy expanses mixed with thicker patches of arbutus, mastic, juniper and holm oak and cork oak trees.

Nowadays almost all the surviving specimens have retired to mountainous areas, and in the lowland forests or in the thick Mediterranean maquis only a few small groups can be met by now. The Iberian lynx is an endangered species.

It is the most endangered carnivore in Europe. Studies carried out in March 2005 estimated a population of less than 100 specimens, compared to about 400 in 2000 and 4,000 in 1960. If the Iberian lynx became extinct, it would be the first species of big cat to disappear since the extinction of the Smilodon, 10,000 years ago.

The only breeding populations live in Spain and are believed to survive only in the Doñana National Park and the Sierra de Andújar. However, in 2007, the Spanish authorities announced the discovery of an unknown population in the territory of Castile-La Mancha.

Subsequently, this population was estimated at 15 specimens. The Iberian lynx and the habitats in which it lives enjoy the most complete protection and even legal hunting has been banned for a long time. The threats facing the most are habitat destruction, poisoning, road accidents, feral dogs and poaching.

The destruction of the habitat is mainly due to the increase in infrastructures and the development of urban and holiday centres, as well as monocultures, which are increasingly fragmenting the range of the lynx. Furthermore, it should also be remembered that the populations of rabbits, the lynx's main prey, have significantly decreased following the spread of diseases such as myxomatosis and haemorrhagic pneumonia.

The census of the Iberian lynx confirms its range: of the more than 400 specimens whose existence has been confirmed, 361 are found in Andalusia. In particular, they are divided between the Doñana-Aljarafe area and Sierra Morena.

Other specimens are found in the province of Badajoz, the Guadiana valley, the Toledo mountains. The decision of the regional council of Andalusia to lower the level of risk of the species, from an endangered species to vulnerable, has caused discussion.

According to some experts, it is still too early to consider the danger of the disappearance of this carnivore from the Iberian and European territory as having passed. In 2018, a population of over 650 specimens was estimated, while the 2020 census showed a growth in the population up to over 1,100 specimens, of which at least 240 females of reproductive age.

According to experts, if the population continues to grow at this rate, within twenty years it is estimated that the species may no longer even be considered at risk of extinction.