20 Jun, 2024 @ 12:21
2 mins read

Spain’s Iberian lynx is no longer at risk of extinction following years of conservation efforts

Lynx numbers across the Iberian peninsula have exceeded 2,000

THE Iberian lynx is no longer classed as ‘endangered’ on the global red list of threatened species after a two-decade-long conservation effort across the peninsula.

According to the latest census figures, the lynx population on the Iberian peninsula has risen to 2,021 from a low of just 94 in 2002, with almost 86% of those found in Spain.

The change in status, which means the Iberian lynx is now categorised as ‘vulnerable’, was announced on Thursday by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The growth in lynx numbers is the result of a collective effort from the EU, regional and national governments in Spain and Portugal, wildlife NGOs and locals.

The Iberian lynx had been teetering on the edge of extinction just 25 years ago when it was classed as ‘critically endangered’ after numbers nosedived thanks to laws from General Franco which encouraged the killing of creatures deemed to be vermin.

The destruction of the lynx’s natural habitat, alongside a steep drop in rabbit numbers which form the basis of the lynx diet, also caused the population to dwindle.

READ MORE: Lynx victory in Spain: Wild cat is almost free of risk of extinction after population surpasses 2,000

Iberian lynx numbers have increased dramatically in the past two decades. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Javier Salcedo, the coordinator of the EU-funded Life Lynxconnect project, described the growth in numbers as ‘astonishing’.

He said: “The hardest part was the start: at the beginning of this century, everyone knew the Iberian lynx was threatened but we didn’t really realise how complicated the situation was. The tracking project and census that were carried out at the beginning of the 21st century showed us that the situation was far worse than anyone imagined: there were only two populations, both in Andalucia, and there were barely 100 lynxes”. 

Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN’s red-list, hailed the dramatic recovery as a ‘great success story’ that was testament to collaborative initiatives to raise awareness, increase rabbit numbers, and expand the lynx population.

He said: “Over the next 100 years we can probably get the lynx to being fully recovered in its native range. Climate change is the worrying factor because we don’t know what it’s going to do – we’ve seen an increase in fires in the Mediterranean area, so how it’s going to impact on the lynx is yet to be determined. So this is a huge success but there’s a long way to go to get the species back to where it should be”. 

Ramon Perez de Ayala, a lynx expert with WWF Spain, reiterated the point that there remains a long way to go, saying the conservation effort was ‘halfway down the path’ and that they want there to be 750 female lynxes of reproductive age by 2040 – there are currently 406.

Many of the challenges that brought down lynx numbers remain – last year, 144 lynxes were killed on roads, 45 died from disease, and rabbit populations are continuing to suffer from rabbit haemorrhagic disease, with rabbit numbers declining by 90% in Portugal in the last 10 years.

Perez de Ayala added: “Let’s not forget that there’s still much to be done. And even when it’s all done, we’ll need to carry on working so that this doesn’t all happen again”.

Ben Pawlowski

Ben joined the Olive Press in January 2024 after a four-month stint teaching English in Paraguay. He loves the adrenaline rush of a breaking news story and the tireless work required to uncover an eye-opening exclusive. He is currently based in Barcelona from where he covers the city, the wider Catalunya region, and the north of Spain. Send tips to ben@theolivepress.es

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