- HB Length: 68-82 cm (27-32″)
- Tail Length: 12.5-15 cm (5-6″)
- Height: Appr. 60 cm (24″)
- Weight: 7-10 kg (15-22 lbs)
- Pop. Trend: Increasing
Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus have a coat colour of yellowish to reddish-brown, patterned with many dark brown or black spots of varying size. There are three distinct individual coat patterns, and the belly fur is lightly coloured. They have the typical look of the lynx species, with a small head, flared facial ruff, long legs, dark ear tufts, and a very short, dark tipped tail. The facial ruff of adults is more distinct than that of other adult lynx species.
They are only about half the size of the Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx. Males average about 27% larger than females. They are closer in size to the Canadian Lynx Lynx canadensis and the Bobcat Lynx rufus.
Iberian lynx are found only in two small areas of southwest Spain on the Iberian Peninsula, west of the Pyrenees mountains. Despite extensive surveys, they have not been detected in Portugal since the 1990’s.
Closely related to the Eurasian Lynx, their ranges used to meet at the Spanish-French border along the Pyrenees Mountains. More recently, the range of the Iberian Lynx has significantly contracted, and now consists of a series of small islands of suitable natural habitat, such as national parks and reserves.
Home ranges in Donana National Park in Spain average 9.5 km2 for females, and 18.2 km2 for males. Male territories overlap those of several females.
These cats prefer areas of native Mediterranean woodlands with native oaks and abundant undergrowth. More than 90% of daytime rest sites are in thick heather scrub. They move along the edges of meadows and more open grassland areas, especially around dusk and dawn, to hunt their favourite prey, the European rabbit. Adult lynx require one rabbit per day, but females with kittens need three each day. 75-93% of their diet in Donana National Park is the European rabbit. Only when the rabbit population crashes due to viral outbreaks, do they look to other prey such as small rodents, birds, and the young of wild boar, red deer, fallow deer, and wild sheep. Leaves, soil and other debris are scraped over large kills to be consumed later.
Iberian Lynx show a great deal of seasonal and individual variation in activity levels. In summer they are nocturnal and crepuscular but in winter they are active during the daylight hours. Their overall activity patterns are closely synchronized with that of the rabbits.
Mating season runs from December to February. One to four, usually 2-3, kittens are born after a gestation period of 60-70 days. The majority of den sites have been found at the base of an old, hollow cork oak tree, indicating how important these trees are to the female. The peak birthing season is March and April in central and southern Spain. Kittens stay in the natal den for the first 20 days, after which their mother moves them to as many as three or four other dens. This may give them more room as they begin to develop their motor skills, as well as help protect them against being discovered by predators as fecal material and smells build up. It may also help avoid parasite build up in any single den. Kittens are eating solid food by 28 days but will nurse for 3-4 months becoming independent around 10 months of age.
Females with their own territory are able to breed at two years of age, but independent kittens often remain in their mother’s territory until 20 months of age. Males and females usually don’t breed until they acquire their own territory, and they may have to wait until a resident animal dies, or moves on. Iberian Lynx have lived to 13 years of age in the wild.
The Iberian, or Spanish, Lynx is currently the most endangered wild cat species in the world.
In 1999, an estimated 1,100 lynx occurred in ten sub populations on the Iberian Peninsula. Between 1985 and 2001, their range declined by 87% and the number of breeding females dropped by more than 90%. By 2010, they existed in two small populations: 70-80 cats in the south of Andalusia and 170-180 individuals in the Sierra Morena (2010).
Their numbers were decimated by rapid habitat loss, with scrublands converted to agriculture and pine and eucalyptus plantations. Human development such as dams, highways and railways also encroached on their native habitat.
While losing their habitat, humans were also over-hunting the cats main prey species, the European rabbit. When a disease called myxomatosis struck the remaining rabbits, the cat population dropped dramatically.
The situation of the Iberian Lynx was so grave that it was the only felid species in which the costly and risky process of captive breeding and reintroduction was essential. The lynx is threatened by the collapse of its main prey, the European rabbit, whose population now numbers only about 5% of 1950 levels due mainly to the introduction of exotic diseases. In 2013 a new variant of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease arrived in Spain and by early 2014, 80-90% of the rabbits on the Iberian Peninsula had been wiped out.
In 2001, when the Iberian lynx population was less than 100 animals, the Life Lince conservation project was launched. A captive breeding program was part of the project, and by 2009 their efforts had increased the number of captive Iberian lynx from zero to 78 (2010). There are now four breeding centres in Spain and Portugal.
The second aim of the project was working in the field, restoring habitat and increasing rabbit numbers with a view towards reintroduction, and the first lynx from the captive breeding project were reintroduced into a new area in Andalusia in 2009.
Efforts by ICONA (the Spanish National Nature Conservation Institute) to improve conditions in Donana National Park, one of the last strongholds of the species, include increasing rabbit numbers by improving habitat conditions and removing some grazing animals to decrease competition for food with rabbits. In areas surrounding the Park, efforts are being made to decrease lynx traffic fatalities, eliminate trapping of rabbits and other animals, and initiate a campaign of environmental awareness. There are also plans to promote genetic exchange through the creation of natural habitat corridors between populations.
Compare this cat to the wide-ranging European Lynx.
Range map IUCN Red List (2015)