The Iberian Lynx, also known as the Spanish Lynx, is considered as the most endangered among the wild cat species across the globe. The lynx itself is rare but the Spanish Lynx is said to be the rarest for the variety that used to roam Spain and Portugal. There are said to be fewer than 1,000 Spanish lynxes existing in the wild. Unlike other animals in the endangered species list, the lynx is not over hunted, even though it is prized for its high quality fur. Here is a short list of the top things that people should know about the Iberian Lynx – before it disappears completely.
The Iberian Lynx, also called the Lynx Pardinus, is known for its coat of yellowish to reddish-brown coat of hair. Like its distant cousin, the leopards, lynxes have dark brown spots of different sizes. It has three distinct coat patterns – with the hair in the belly region being of lighter color than the rest of the body. The Iberian Lynx can be described as having a small head, long legs, flared ruff in the face area, and a short but very dark tipped tail. In adult it has a very distinct facial ruff.
The Iberian Lynx is distinctively smaller than the Eurasian Lynx. The male Iberian Lynx is 27% larger than the female ones. In terms of size, they are closer in resemblance to the Canadian Lynx and the Bobcat Lynx.
As the name implies, the Iberian Lynx inhabits the Iberian Peninsula, to the western side of the Pyrenees mountain area. This particular species has not been seen in Portugal since 1990.
The Iberian Lynx and the Eurasian Lynx used to share a common territory – the Spanish-French border located at the Pyrenees Mountains. The range covered by the Iberian Lynx has also shrunk in the last decade, owing to fewer national parks and animal reserves.
If left to decide on their own, these cats will be living in Mediterranean forests and woodlands. They prefer oak trees since they spend their days resting thick heather scrubs during the day. During dawn and dusk time, they can be seen roaming in meadows and open grasslands hunting for their favorite fare: rabbits! Yes, Spanish lynxes can consume one rabbit per day, and newborns and cubs about three. When rabbit supply is lean, they will also subsist on wild boar, fallow deer, red deer and sheep. They cover their kill with leaves and soil so they can ward off other predators.
The activity of the Iberian Lynx varies with the seasons. They are known to be nocturnal during the summer season but are active during the day during wintertime. Interestingly, their level of activity is dependent to that of the rabbits that they hunt.
The Iberian Lynxes mate during the months of December to February. Around 2 to 3 kittens are born to a mother after being pregnant for about 60 to 70 days. The preferred nesting sites are old, hollow cork oak trees. The young lynxes stay in this nest for the first 20 days of their loves. The kittens and their Moms may move about depending on how safe the area is. The mother stays with her young until they develop the motor skills needed to be able to fend for themselves.
Baby Iberian Lynxes nurse from their mothers for up to 4 months. They start ingesting small solid food by the age of 28 days but are considered independent and are able to hunt for their own food by the time they are 10 months old. Female lynxes are able to breed just a little after two years, but some kittens stay with their mom until they are much older. The thing is, the Iberian Lynxes do not start to reproduce until they have found their own territories. Some wait for their parents to die or move to a different area. Lynxes can live to up to 13 years.
Iberian Lynxes are solitary animals. They do not have a pride like their lion cousins. Group of lynxes seen together are normally a mother and her kittens.
Although this species is mainly nocturnal, which means that it’s active during the night, it’s different during the winter months. Iberian lynxes become diurnal, meaning they become active during the day. Since there are also few rabbits in winter season, they hunt for ducks, mouflon and deer as source of food.
The Iberian Lynxes are on the endangered species list because their primary food source, the European rabbit, is being ravaged by disease and pests. Their natural habitat or breeding grounds are also dwindling. The European hare has no natural immunity to the pox virus. According to research, by the time the rabbits developed an immunity to the virus, they were struck by hemorrhagic pneumonia. The latter almost decimated the European rabbit population, which in turn affected the Iberian Lynxes.
Other Causes of Extinction
Aside from the decreasing number of rabbits, there are other factors that also contribute to their extinction. These include the loss of their habitat due to the development of roads and other infrastructures, being hit by vehicles and illegal hunting.
The Iberian Lynxes have been accidentally captured and killed by traps set for rabbits. They are also hit by cars as they roam the roadsides since they are forced to move to populated areas. Because of this, efforts to develop a natural reserve has been established by the Spanish government.
In 2010, there were as few as 70 to 80 Iberian Lynxes in the Southern Andalusian area and about 170 to 180 cats in the Sierra Morena region. However, conservation efforts are made in order to save this specie. For instance, the Iberian Lynx Ex-situ Conservation Programme welcomed 53 cubs so far this year (2015).
It is difficult to successfully breed Iberian Lynxes in captivity because of low genetic variability and their susceptibility to disease epidemics. In 2001, the Life Lince conservation was started to breed lynxes in captivity – no matter what the odds. They have successfully bred 78 kittens in captivity, and there are now four breeding centers for the Iberian Lynx in Spain and Portugal.
Breeding this endangered species and training them to go back into the wild is only one part of the job. The rest of the efforts concentrated on restoring their woodland habitat and introducing more rabbits in the area for them to feed on. The new conservation areas will also ensure that the Iberian Lynxes do not come in contact with human traps and vehicles, thereby leaving them free to lead the lives as they have always known how.