Iberian Lynx in Immediate Danger of Extinction

LUZIANES, Portugal, March 9, 2005 (ENS) - Survival of the Iberian lynx is in grave doubt, a Portuguese conservation group said in an urgent alert today. The world's most endangered cat, found only in Spain and Portugal, numbers only about 100 animals now, down from 100,000 at the turn of the 20th century, according to a report from SOS Lynx.

Accidental deaths caused by speeding vehicles on the network of roads expanding across lynx habitat are now the greatest cause of mortality for the big cats, according to the report written by Dan Ward, a conservation consultant commissioned by SOS Lynx.

"The Iberian Lynx is in critical danger of extinction, with 100-120 surviving mature individuals in the wild, and 37-47 cubs born this year from just 21-26 reproducing females," wrote Ward. For comparison, there are around 8,000 surviving tigers in the wild and 10,000 cheetahs.


The Iberian lynx is now reduced to less than one percent of its numbers 100 years ago. (Photo courtesy Lynx Pardinus)
Road and dam construction fragmenting lynx habitat, illegal hunting, and a steep decline due to disease in rabbits, favorite prey of the lynx, are the other urgent problems facing the species, Ward confirms.

WWF, the global conservation organization, warned today that unless the European Union and Spain "take drastic action," the Iberian lynx could be the first big cat species to become extinct since the sabre-toothed tiger died out 10,000 years ago.

WWF has been urging the Spanish authorities for over two years to close the Villamanrique-El Rocio road, which crosses the heart of Doņana Natural Park and fragments critical lynx habitat. The road was built with partial funding from the EU, and several lynx have already been killed on it, the latest one six months ago.

"With such a small population, the accidental loss of just one individual brings the species closer to the brink of extinction," said Luis Suarez, head of species, WWF Spain. "It is not acceptable that the European Commission's support to projects aimed at protecting the Iberian lynx are flouted by simultaneous funding of harmful infrastructure schemes."

WWF believes the current reform of EU's Structural Funds should correct such inconsistencies and guarantee that funds are no longer allocated to projects that will have a negative impact on the Iberian lynx or other endangered wildlife.

Two lynx were killed by road traffic in the wider Doņana area in 2004, and there are plans for further road and agricultural developments that will impact lynx," Ward reports.

"Moreover, even if the Doņana population survives it will be very difficult to reconnect it with the Andujar population, some 300 km away and separated by numerous roads, dams, towns and intensive agriculture developments," he writes.

The two small and isolated populations with confirmed breeding are both in Andalusia, in southern Spain. They inhabit an area of approximately 35,000 hectares, equivalent to a medium-sized city.

Conservationists and European Green politicians have warned for five years that the lynx is in immediate need of protection. SOS Lynx is a campaign organization setup in Portugal in 2000, specifically to help save the Iberian lynx. Just two years ago, there were believed to have been at least 160 adult lynx.


Iberian lynx pelts were, until recently, used for fashionable coats. (Photo courtesy Lynx Pardinus)
Previous WWF research showed that 53 heavy public works in Spain affect the endangered cat. Dams are a particular threat, as they flood valley bottoms which tend to contain the best Iberian lynx habitat.

EU's Natura 2000 Programme is essential to secure and increase lynx habitat, as it offers the strongest level of protection in Europe. But, according to WWF, the areas proposed by Spain for Natura 2000 designation do not cover all critical lynx territory.

Inclusion of the biological corridor that would connect the remaining breeding population in Doņana National Park with the one in Sierra Morena is of utmost importance, WWF says.

"We know that these last two populations are absolutely critical for the very survival of the species. All key areas for the Iberian lynx must be included in the Natura 2000 proposal for the Mediterranean region and the Villamanrique-El Rocio road must be closed," Dr. Susan Lieberman, director of the Global Species Programme, said from WWF headquarters in Gland, Switzerland.

"The EU cannot pay lip service to environmental goals, and then proceed to undermine them," Lieberman said. "It must take species conservation seriously."

Dr. Caroline Lucas, South-East England's Member of the European Parliament (MEP), said last April, "This crisis has been precipitated in part by the EU itself, whose economical and regional development policies are in flat contradiction of its conservational policies."

As vice-president of the European Parliament's Animal Welfare and Conservation Inter-group, Lucas commissioned a report last April, "The Iberian Lynx Emergency," that warned of imminent lynx extinction.

Introduced to the European Parliament on April 26, 2004, that report said there is little time left to save the species because it is so close to extinction, and that current conservation efforts are still poorly developed. In particular, there is still no successful captive breeding programme and development and hunting pressures are not being adequately controlled to protect the lynx and its habitat.

Lucas said, "Failure to act immediately and save the lynx would be a terrible embarrassment for the EU and a dark day for nature conservation."

"The EU has a particular responsibility and ability to conserve and recover the Iberian lynx," said Lucas. "However, at present it is not doing so because of inadequate support for lynx conservation, and inappropriate support for damaging infrastructure developments and land-use changes in key areas. There needs to be radical changes in the funding and control of water, transport, agriculture and forestry projects to save both the lynx and the EU's reputation."

The SOS Lynx Report, "Saving the Iberian Lynx, the Way Forward?" is found at: http://www.soslynx.org/