iber-lynx75

endangered cats

  • 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.

Distribution

iberian mapIberian 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.

Ecology

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.

Reproduction

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.

Conservation

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)

Updated 2017

20 Responses

  1. I read through your passage, and it never talks about the dens. What are they made of?

    • Lynx den in rock piles, heavy brush or areas with fallen trees – anything that provides a large enough space to keep the kittens hidden.

  2. I have a few questions that none of the articles I’ve read on the Iberian Lynx seem to answer. The first one, is when were the lynx first put on the critically endangered list? And second, why were the lynx being hunted in the first place? I know that up until the 50’s, the Spanish government offered a bounty for dead lynx, but why is it that today, they are still being poached despite the heavy fines? Is it because of their fur? Or because they are competing with hunters for European Rabbits? Thanks for the other information in this article though! It really helped me get facts for my essay!

    • Iberian Lynx were classed as Critically Endangered in 2002, and upgraded to Endangered in 2015. The lynx were being hunted for two reasons. Farmers killed them as a form of predator control, shooting the cats on site as they assumed lynx would eat their domestic livestock. Local people also hunted the rabbits for food, so again they shot the cats so they couldn’t eat the rabbits. The real cause of the cats rapid decline was not hunting, but a disease that wiped out almost the entire rabbit population. Iberian lynx are specialist feeders and do not switch to other prey if rabbits are scarce.

      Due to wide ranging, long-running educational programs people are no longer hunting the lynx, although they are occasionally caught in traps set for other animals. The main threats to the Iberian Lynx now are death by automobile and loss of habitat. Poaching is no longer a major concern but I’m sure there are still a few individuals who know the law and don’t care.

  3. […] “The Iberian lynx began to diverge from its sister species some 300,000 years ago, and the two species became completely separated some 2,500 years ago,” the researchers said. […]

  4. Michael Fortin

    could you explain how the Iberian lynx got endangered in the first place

    • What a very good question! We will have to edit our fact sheet to include this information.

      In 1999, there were an estimated 1,100 Iberian Lynx in Spain. 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 its native habitat. They were also being hunted by people.

      While losing its 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. Iberian Lynx would have disappeared completely if not for the captive breeding program, which is now reintroducing them to protected habitats in Spain and Portugal.

  5. Thanks for writing a good article! I will do all I can to protect Iberian Cat.

  6. This helps a bunch! I’m writing in my class about the Iberian Lynx and found them to be quite interesting!!

  7. […] Iberian lynxes are different in that Iberian lynxes are smaller, and their coloring is different. There are other differences, too. Iberian lynxes also seem to be localized to Spain. They aren’t even found in […]

  8. Why is it that lynx are the only cats, that humans eat?

    • That’s not true, actually. Most of the small wild cats in south east Asia are popular on human menus. There are also some South American cats that are eaten by the local people.

  9. So there are definitely none in Portugal? Wikipedia and the WWF website says there are

  10. This was fantastic thanks for your help now I will get a level 9b thanks

  11. Username*

    Very interested to hear more about project, especially now as in the UK a similar situation for our own lynx is being suggested.

  12. Protect the Iberian Lynx, the most endangered big cat in the world. http://www.foodshedplanet.com/2013/06/lynx-across-generations-and-across.html #realcork #iberianlynx #endangeredspecies

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