Iberian Lynx June 02, 2015 13:18

The Iberian lynx is the world's most endangered feline species. There are real fears that it may soon become the first cat species to become extinct for at least 2,000 years.

The big cat running out of space

Having decreased steadily in population numbers over the last 200 years there are now only two confirmed small and isolated breeding populations, both in southern Spain.

Physical Description
The Iberian lynx is heavily spotted and weighs about half as much as the Eurasian species, with long legs and a very short tail with a black tip. Its coat is tawny with dark spots and it bears a characteristic "beard" around its face and prominent black ear tufts.

Weight: 10-13kg
Height: 88-100cm

Female lynxes generally give birth between March and April. The average litter size is 3, with rarely more than 2 young surviving weaning. Kittens leave the den between 8 and 23 months. Very high rates of mortality during dispersal have been detected.

The Iberian lynx mostly depends on wild rabbits to feed, but it will also eat ducks, young deer and partridges if rabbit densities are low. While an adult lynx needs about one rabbit a day, a mother raising her young needs to catch about 3.


Biogeographic realm

Range States
Portugal, Spain

Geographical Location
Southern Europe

Ecological Region
Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands and Scrub
From left to right: Previous (undated) and current distribution of the Iberian lynx. rel=
Population & Distribution
In the early 19th century the Iberian lynx was found in Spain, Portugal and Southern France. It has steadily declined since then, falling to the dangerously low levels today.

At the beginning of last decade there were only two isolated breeding populations of Iberian lynx remaining in the world, located in southern Spain, and totaling about 100 adult animals, with only 25 breeding females.

IUCN's assessment in 2007 stated that the numbers were not sufficient for the survival of the species in the long term , putting this wild cat on the brink of extinction.

Thanks to the joint efforts of the Spanish national and regional administrations, different NGOs (like WWF) and the European Union (via the Life projects), the total population is currently increasing. The 2009 census shows around 230 individuals, including 7 adults that have been introduced in the area of Guadalmellato (Córdoba, Spain), which should open up a third Lynx territory.

To this figures we have to add the 81 animals that are part of the Captive Breeding Programme. But altough there are signs of recovery, the species future is still fragile.

What are the main threats?

The Iberian lynx has been brought to the brink of extinction because of a combination of threats:

Decreasing food base
Rabbits form the main prey of the Iberian lynx. Epidemics, such as myxamatosis, have affected rabbit populations over the years, which has in turn affected the Iberian lynx population.

Habitat loss and degradation
Infrastructures like roads, dams, railways and other human activities contribute to the loss and fragmentation of the Iberian lynx distribution area, creating barriers between the different populations. The expanding road network has also led to more fatalities on the roads. It is thought that between 1960 and 1990, the Iberian lynx suffered an 80% loss in its range.

Ironically, the species has been regarded both as an attractive hunting trophy and as a vermin. Hunters prized its valuable fur and its meat, and although some landowners appreciate its tendency to keep fox and rabbit numbers down, most perceive it as a threat to their game populations. The Iberian lynx was legally protected against hunting from the early 1970s, but they are still the victims of guns, traps and snares, particularly those set for other animals.

Car hits
The construction of high speed roads and highways, splitting up the Lynx habitat, is another of the main threats for this wild cat. In the past decade more than 10 animals have died under the wheels of a car. A very high number if we realize we’re talking almost 5% of the total population.