The Iberian lynx, the world’s most endangered cat species, was once feared to be on its way to being the first feline species to become extinct in at least 2,000 years.
But the latest population survey, in 2015, released by the government of Andalusia and announced by WWF Global, shows a distinct rebound, with the highest numbers of the species in the world since 2002, when there were less than 100.
Today, the census shows that the Iberian lynx population is up to 404 individuals, an increase of 77 from 2014.
“WWF welcomes the heartening results of the 2015 Iberian Lynx census,” said Luis Suarez, head of WWF-Spain’s species program. “This is a historic landmark that comes with the heavy responsibility of strengthening our commitment and conservation actions to protect this most endangered species.”
The numbers include 120 breeding females in five areas of the Iberian Peninsula: four in Spain (Donana, Sierra Morena, Montes de Toledo, Valley Matachel) and one in Portugal (Vale do Guadiana).
While the news is welcoming, the Iberian lynx remains threatened by vehicular mortality and the loss of its primary food source — two dilemmas that could cause the trend to reverse itself again if not addressed.
The survey revealed that the population of rabbits, the main prey of Iberian lynx, have dropped more than 50 percent in areas critical to the species because of a new strain of viral hemorrhagic disease.
“It is essential that all competent authorities take action on the threats to rabbits and begin to implement better monitoring plans and actions for species recovery,” Suarez said. “Otherwise, we will see a real ecological catastrophe given the key role of the rabbit in Mediterranean ecosystems.”
Efforts also have to be made to prevent the killing of the Iberian lynx by drivers. The survey showed that 51 lynx were killed in road accidents over the past three years.
The research also shows that the Iberian lynx is expanding beyond the borders of Andalusia, with the growth in Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura regions, as well as in Portugal. In 2015, the first birth of the species in the wild outside Andalusia was confirmed in Extremadura. While it is too early to declare new population areas, the mortality rates in reintroduction areas are less than the traditional rate of 50 per cent.
“The increasing numbers and expansion of Iberian lynx show that concerted conservation efforts pay off,” said Carlos Drews, director of WWF’s global species program. “This endangered cat is symbolic of the plight of numerous threatened species worldwide that require sustained conservation efforts over several decades. But the job is not completed yet—it’s on the right track, but still distant from a full recovery.”
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