|Distribution of Iberian lynx, 2015|
The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is a wild cat species endemic to the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In the 20th century, the Iberian lynx population had declined because of overhunting, poaching, fragmentation of suitable habitats, and the population decline of its main prey species, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), caused by myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease.
By the turn of the 21st century, the Iberian lynx was on the verge of extinction, as only 94 individuals survived in two isolated subpopulations in Andalusia in 2002. Conservation measures have been implemented since then, which included improving habitat, restocking of rabbits, translocating, reintroducing and monitoring Iberian lynxes. By 2012, the population had increased to 326 individuals, to 855 in 2020, and to 1,111 in 2021.
Felis pardina was the scientific name proposed by Coenraad Jacob Temminck in 1827 who described skins of Iberian lynxes that were killed in the area of the Tagus river in Portugal and were traded in Paris and London. It is a monotypic species.
The Iberian lynx genetically diverged as a unique species 1.98 to 0.7 million years ago. Its closest living relative is the Eurasian lynx, with which it coexisted to a certain degree until the 20th century.
The Iberian lynx has a short bright yellowish to tawny coloured spotted fur. The spots vary in shape and size from small round to elongate. They are arranged in lines and decrease in size from the back towards the sides. Its head is small with tufted ears and a ruff. Its body is short with long legs and a short tail. Head and body length of males is 74.7–82 cm (29.4–32.3 in) with a 12.5–16 cm (4.9–6.3 in) long tail and a weight of 7–15.9 kg (15–35 lb). Females are smaller with a head-to-body-length of approximately 68.2–77.5 cm (26.9–30.5 in) and a weight of 9.2–10 kg (20–22 lb).
Distribution and habitat
The Iberian lynx was once present throughout the Iberian Peninsula and southern France. In the 1950s, the northern population extended from the Mediterranean to Galicia and parts of northern Portugal, and the southern population from central to southern Spain. Populations declined from 15 subpopulations in the 1940s to only two subpopulations in the early 1990s, most noticeably in Montes de Toledo and Sierra Morena. Before 1973, it was present in Sierra de Gata, Montes de Toledo, eastern Sierra Morena, Sierra de Relumbrar and coastal plains in the Doñana area. Between the early 1960s and 2000, it has lost about 80% of its former range. In 2012, it was restricted to very limited areas in southern Spain, with breeding only confirmed in Sierra Morena and Doñana coastal plains. As of 2014, its range included the Sierra Morena and Montes de Toledo of Castilla-La Mancha and the Matachel Valley of Extremadura in Spain, and the Guadiana Valley in Portugal.
Fossil remains indicate that the Iberian lynx had a wider range during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene. Five lynx remains found in Arene Candide in northern Italy date to about 24,820–18,620 before present. One specimen found in Cabias cave in southern France was radiocarbon dated to 3780±90 before present.
The Iberian lynx prefers heterogeneous environments of open grassland mixed with dense shrubs such as strawberry tree, mastic, and juniper, and trees such as holm oak and cork oak. It is now largely restricted to mountainous areas.
Behaviour and ecology
The Iberian lynx marks its territory with its urine, scratch marks on the barks of trees, and scat. The home ranges of adults are stable over many years. Camera trapping surveys in the eastern Sierra Morena Mountains between 1999 and 2008 revealed that six females had home ranges of 5.2–6.6 km2 (2.0–2.5 sq mi). Four males in the area had home ranges of 11.8–12.2 km2 (4.6–4.7 sq mi).
Diet and hunting
The Iberian lynx preys foremost on the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) for the bulk of its diet, supplemented by red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa), rodents and to a smaller degree also on wild ungulates. It sometimes preys on young fallow deer (Dama dama), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), European mouflon (Ovis aries musimon), and ducks. A male requires one rabbit per day, while a female raising kittens will eat three per day.
The species has low adaptability — it continued to rely heavily on rabbits (75% of its food intake) despite the latter's repeated population crashes due to myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease. This contributed to its decline in numbers in the 20th century.
It competes for prey with the Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), the Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon), and the European wildcat (Felis silvestris). Also, it often kills other smaller carnivores such as the aforementioned red fox, Egyptian mongoose and common genet (Genetta genetta).
During the mating season the female leaves her territory in search of a male. The typical gestation period is about two months; the kittens are born between March and September, with a peak of births in March and April. A litter consists of two or three (rarely one, four or five) kittens weighing between 200 and 250 g (7.1 and 8.8 oz).
The kittens become independent at 7 to 10 months old, but remain with the mother until around 20 months old. Survival of the young depends heavily on the availability of prey species. In the wild, both males and females reach sexual maturity at the age of one year, though in practice they rarely breed until a territory becomes vacant; one female was known not to breed until five years old when its mother died. The maximum longevity in the wild is 13 years.
Siblings become violent towards one another between 30 and 60 days, peaking at 45 days. A kitten will frequently kill its littermate in a brutal fight. It is unknown why these episodes of aggression occur, though many scientists believe it is related to a change in hormones when a kitten switches from its mother's milk to meat. Others believe it is related to hierarchy, and "survival of the fittest".
Difficulty in finding mates has led to more inbreeding, which results in fewer kittens and a greater rate of non-traumatic death. Inbreeding leads to lower semen quality and greater rates of infertility in males, hindering efforts to increase the species' fitness.
The Iberian lynx is threatened by habitat loss, road accidents, and illegal hunting. Habitat loss is due mainly to infrastructure improvement, urban and resort development and tree mono cultivation, which fragments the lynx's distribution. In the 20th century, rabbit diseases such as myxomatosis and hemorrhagic disease resulted in a dramatic decline of its main prey. Illegal traps set for rabbits and foxes were leading causes for lynx fatality in the 1990s. Every year, several Iberian lynxes die when trying to cross highways with heavy traffic. In 2013, 14 Iberian lynxes died on roads, and 21 in 2014.
In 2013, it was reported that the Iberian lynx possesses antibiotic resistant bacteria within its digestive tract, which may lead to more dangerous and difficult-to-treat infections, and decrease its fitness. Climate change may threaten the Iberian lynx, as it is not able to adapt well to a climate change. It may be induced to disperse to areas with a more suitable climate but fewer rabbits, a circumstance that may contribute to higher mortality.
The Iberian lynx is fully protected. It is listed on CITES Appendix I, on Appendix II of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats and on Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive of the European Union. It has been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2014.
Conservation measures include restoring its native habitat, maintaining the wild rabbit population, reducing unnatural causes of death, and releasing captive bred individuals. The Spanish National Commission for the Protection of Nature endorsed the Iberian Lynx Ex Situ Conservation Breeding Program to serve as a "safety net" by managing the captive population and also to "help establish new Iberian lynx free-ranging populations through reintroduction programmes." Before release of captive-bred cats, their natural habit may be simulated to prepare them for life in the wild. A 2006 study used a non-intrusive monitoring system involving cameras to monitor the demographics of both lynxes and rabbits residing in Sierra Morena. Supplemental food sources could be provided if wild rabbits suffered a decline.
Management efforts are being developed to conserve and restore the animal's native range. Officials intending to release captive-bred lynx look for areas of appropriate habitat, rabbit abundance, and acceptance by the local human population. About 90 million euros was spent on various conservation measures between 1994 and 2013. The European Union contributes up to 61% of funding.
Beginning in 2009, the Iberian lynx was reintroduced into Guadalmellato, resulting in a population of 23 in 2013. Since 2010, the species has also been released in Guarrizas. Discussions were held with the Ministry of Environment on plans for releases in the Campanarios de Azaba area near Salamanca. In April 2013, it was reported that Andalusia's total wild population—only 94 in 2002—had tripled to 309 individuals. In July 2013, environmental groups confirmed the presence of a wild-born litter in the Province of Cáceres (Extremadura). A study published in July 2013 in Nature Climate Change advised that reintroduction programs take place in northern Iberia, suggesting that climate change would threaten rabbits in the south.
The presence of Iberian lynxes in Portugal, particularly in the south, has been verified. In 2014, the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests signed contracts securing 2,000 hectares of land for Portugal's reintroduction project. On 16 December 2014, a pair of Iberian lynx was released into Guadiana Valley Natural Park near Mértola, Portugal. On 7 February 2015, another pair was released into the park, but the female was later found dead on 12 March 2015 after being poisoned in Mértola. The last pair of captive-bred Iberian lynxes were released into Guadiana Valley Nature Reserve on 12 May 2015. By the end of 2015 there were 400 lynx on the Iberian peninsula, the vast majority in Andalusia, in southern Spain, but with smaller new populations in the hills near Toledo, in Extremadura (south-western Spain) and in southern Portugal.
The reintroduction of Iberian lynx in Portugal has been a success; from 17 animals that were reintroduced, 12 have already established territories.
Since a 2007 outbreak of feline leukemia virus (FeLV), wild lynxes are tested periodically for possible disease. September–December 2013 samples were negative for FeLV but one male became the first of his species to test positive for feline immunodeficiency virus and was placed into quarantine.
In 2002, the Jerez Zoo confirmed it had three females and was developing a plan for a captive breeding program. One of those females was Saliega, captured as a kitten in April 2002. She became the first Iberian lynx to breed in captivity, giving birth to three healthy kittens on 29 March 2005 at the El Acebuche Breeding Center, in the Doñana Nature Park in Huelva, Spain. Over the following years, the number of births grew and additional breeding centers were opened. In March 2009, it was reported that 27 kittens had been born since the beginning of the program. In 2009, the Spanish government planned to build a €5.5 million breeding center in Zarza de Granadilla.
In Portugal the Centro Nacional de Reprodução do Lince-Ibérico (CNRLI) established a breeding center near Silves, Portugal. and has since nurtured 122 individuals all born in the breeding center, of which 89 survived. 73 of them were reintroduced in the wild. Reintroduction takes place in Mértola and Serpa in the Guadiana Valley. As of 2020, there are around 140 individuals in the wild in Portugal spread through an area of approximately 50,000 hectares, 50 of them are cubs.
There were 14 surviving kittens in 2008 and 15 in 2009. In 2010, intense rain and health issues resulted in lower reproductive success—14 born, 8 surviving—but the next year, breeding centers recorded 45 births with 26 surviving kittens. In 2012, breeding centers in Portugal and Spain reported a total of 44 survivors from 59 births, while 2013 saw a total of 44 survivors out of 53 born. In 2017, the total population of Iberian lynx reached 475 specimens. In February 2019, the total population was estimated to grow to around 650 individuals.
In March 2013, it was reported that Iberian lynx embryos and oocytes had been collected and preserved for the first time. They were collected from Saliega and another female—both sterilized and retired from the breeding program—by Berlin's Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and stored in liquid nitrogen at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid for possible future breeding. In July 2014, the MNCN-CSIC announced they had produced sperm cells from the testicular tissue of sexually immature lynx.
The genetic diversity of the Iberian lynx is lower than in any other genetically impoverished felid, which is a consequence of fragmentation, a population bottleneck, and isolation of population units. Iberian lynxes in Doñana and Andujar differ genetically at microsatellite markers. Samples collected in Doñana exhibited a high degree of inbreeding as this unit was isolated for a long time.
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- "For the first time Iberian lynx embryos are collected and preserved". Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB). phys.org. 2013.
- Mosquera Rodriguez, E. (2014). "Esperma 'de laboratorio' para salvar al lince ibérico" [Laboratory-made sperm to save the Iberian lynx]. El Mundo (in Spanish).
- "The Iberian Lynx at the Zoobotanico de Jerez (in Spanish)".
- Novais, V. (2014). "Os felinos mais ameacados do mundo ja moram em Lisboa" [O casal de linces-ibéricos chegou ao Jardim Zoológico de Lisboa com uma missão especial: mostrar aos visitantes o que os torna os felinos mais ameaçados do mundo]. Observador (in Portuguese).
- "Llega a Zoo Aquarium de Madrid una pareja de linces ibéricos del proyecto Iberlince". Zoo Aquarium Madrid. 2016.
- Casas-Marce, M.; Soriano, L.; López-Bao, J. V. & Godoy, J. A. (2013). "Genetics at the verge of extinction: insights from the Iberian lynx". Molecular Ecology. 22 (22): 5503–5515. doi:10.1111/mec.12498. PMID 24128177. S2CID 27205596.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lynx pardinus.|
|Wikispecies has information related to Lynx pardinus.|
- Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe – Iberian lynx
- Programa de Conservación Ex-Situ Official Spanish government page (in Spanish)
- Species portrait Iberian lynx; IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group
- ARKive – Images and movies of the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus)
- The natural history of the Iberian lynx
- Lynx in vertebradosibericos.org (in Spanish)
- WWF species profile: Iberian lynx
- Lynx pardinus in Naturdata (in Portuguese)