|1980 range map|
|2003 range map|
The Iberian lynx, (Lynx pardinus), is a critically endangered species of felid native to the Iberian Peninsula in Southern Europe. A rabbit specialist, the Iberian lynx is unable to significantly alter its diet and, as a result, its population declined sharply when its main prey was decimated by two diseases in the 20th century. It was also affected by the loss of scrubland, its main habitat, to human development. It is now one of the most endangered cat species in the world. According to the conservation group SOS Lynx, if the Iberian lynx died out, it would be the first feline species to become extinct since prehistoric times. Captive breeding and reintroduction programs have boosted their numbers. As of 2013, Andalusia has a population of 309 living in the wild.
Formerly considered a subspecies of the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), the Iberian lynx is now classified as a separate species. Both species occurred together in central Europe in the Pleistocene epoch, being separated by habitat choice. The Iberian lynx is believed to have evolved from Lynx issiodorensis.
In most respects, the Iberian lynx resembles other species of lynx, with a short tail, tufted ears and a ruff of fur beneath the chin. While the Eurasian lynx bears rather pallid markings, the Iberian lynx has distinctive, leopard-like spots with a coat that is often light grey or various shades of light brownish-yellow. The coat is also noticeably shorter than in other lynxes, which are typically adapted to colder environments. Some western populations were spotless, although these have recently[when?] become extinct.
The head and body length is 85 to 110 centimetres (33 to 43 in), with the short tail an additional 12 to 30 centimetres (4.7 to 12 in); the shoulder height is 60 to 70 centimetres (24 to 28 in). The male is larger than the female, with the average weight of males 12.9 kilograms (28 lb) and a maximum of 26.8 kilograms (59 lb), compared to an average of 9.4 kilograms (21 lb) for females; this is about half the size of the Eurasian lynx.
The Iberian lynx is a rabbit specialist – the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) forms the bulk of its diet (79.5–86.7%), with (5.9%) hares (Lepus granatensis) and rodents (3.2%) less common. A male requires one rabbit per day; a female bringing up cubs will eat three rabbits per day. The Iberian species is unable to change its diet significantly if rabbit populations decline sharply. It continued to rely on rabbits for the majority of its diet, 75%, after its preferred prey was decimated by two diseases: myxomatosis which spread to Iberia after a physician intentionally introduced it in France in 1952, and viral hemorrhagic disease beginning in 1988.
The Iberian lynx also hunts other mammals (including rodents and insectivores), birds, reptiles and amphibians at twilight. It sometimes preys on young fallow deer, roe deer, mouflon, and ducks. It competes for prey with the red fox, the Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) and the wildcat. The species is solitary and hunts alone; it will stalk its prey or lie in wait for hours behind a bush or rock until the prey is sufficiently close to pounce in a few strides.
The Iberian lynx is smaller than its northern relatives, and typically hunts smaller animals, usually no larger than hares. It also differs in habitat choice, with Iberian lynx inhabiting open scrubland and Eurasian lynx inhabiting forests.
A lynx, especially with younger animals, will roam widely, with ranges reaching more than 100 kilometres (62 mi). Its territory (~ 10 to 20 square kilometres (3.9 to 7.7 sq mi)) is also dependent on how much food is available. Nonetheless, once established, ranges tend to be stable in size over many years, the boundaries often being along man-made roads and trails. The Iberian lynx marks its territory with its urine, droppings left in existing tracks through the vegetation, and scratch marks on the barks of trees.
During the mating season the female leaves her territory in search of a male. The typical gestation period is about two months; the cubs are born between March and September, with a peak of births in March and April. A litter consists of two or three (rarely one, four or five) kittens weighing between 200 and 250 grams (7.1 and 8.8 oz).
The kittens become independent at 7 to 10 months old, but remain with the mother until around 20 months old. Survival of the young depends heavily on the availability of prey species. In the wild, both males and females reach sexual maturity at one year old, though in practice they rarely breed until a territory becomes vacant; one female was known not to breed until five years old when its mother died. The maximum longevity in the wild is 13 years.
Siblings become violent towards one another between 30 and 60 days, peaking at 45 days. A cub will frequently kill its littermate in a brutal fight. It is unknown why these episodes of aggression occur, though many scientists believe it is related to a change in hormones when a cub switches from its mother's milk to meat. Others believe it is related to hierarchy, and "survival of the fittest." No matter the reason, conservationists must separate the kittens until the 60 day period is reached.
This lynx was distributed over the entire Iberian Peninsula as recently as the mid-19th century. It is now restricted to very limited areas of southern Spain, with breeding only confirmed in two areas of Andalucía. The Iberian lynx prefers heterogeneous environments of open grassland mixed with dense shrubs such as strawberry tree, mastic, and juniper, and trees such as holm oak and cork oak. It is now largely restricted to mountainous areas, with only a few groups found in lowland forest or dense maquis shrubland.
The Iberian lynx and its habitat are fully protected, and they are no longer legally hunted. Its critical status is mainly due to habitat loss, poisoning, road casualties, feral dogs and poaching. Its habitat loss is due mainly to infrastructure improvement, urban and resort development and tree monocultivation, which serves to break the lynx's distribution area. In addition, the lynx prey population of rabbits is also declining due to diseases such as myxomatosis and hemorrhagic pneumonia.
Studies conducted in March 2005 estimated the number of surviving Iberian lynx to be as few as 100, down from about 400 in 2000 and down from 4,000 in 1960. If the Iberian lynx were to become extinct, it would be the first big cat species to do so since Smilodon populator 10,000 years ago.
The only breeding populations are in Spain, and were thought to be only living in the Doñana National Park and in the Sierra de Andújar, Jaén. However, in 2007, Spanish authorities announced that they had discovered a previously unknown population in Castile-La Mancha (central Spain). It was later announced that there were around 15 individuals there.
The presence of Iberian lynxes in East Portugal (particularly in the south) has been verified, but there is no evidence of reproduction.
In 2008, the Doñana population was assessed at 24 to 33, with an estimated 60 to 110 adults in the Sierra Morena, which is the stronghold of the species. The total population was estimated to be 99 to 158 adults, including the newly discovered La Mancha population, and the Iberian lynx qualified as Critically Endangered under C2a(i) on the IUCN Redlist.
Beginning in 2009, the Iberian lynx was reintroduced into Guadalmellato, resulting in a population of 23 in 2013. Reintroductions were also planned in Guarrizas in 2010–11. To reduce the risk of having only two core populations, the conservation community planned to reintroduce animals to other parts of Spain and Portugal. Discussions were held with the Ministry of Environment on plans for releases in the Campanarios de Azaba area near Salamanca.
In 2002, the Jerez Zoo confirmed it had three females and was developing a plan for a captive breeding program. One of those females was Saliega, captured as a cub in April 2002. She became the first Iberian lynx to breed in captivity, giving birth to three healthy kittens on March 29, 2005 at the El Acebuche Breeding Center, in the Doñana Nature Park in Huelva, Spain.
Gradually, the number of births grew and additional breeding centers were opened. In March 2009, it was reported that 27 cubs had been born since the beginning of the program. In 2009, the Spanish government planned to build a €5.5 million breeding center in Zarza de Granadilla. Portugal established a breeding center in Silves. In the 2010–2011 season, breeding centers recorded 45 births with 26 surviving kittens. The next season, breeding centers in Portugal and Spain reported a total of 44 survivors from 59 births.
In March 2013, it was reported that Iberian lynx embryos and oocytes had been collected and preserved for the first time. They were collected from Saliega and another female – both retired from the breeding program – by Berlin's Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and stored in liquid nitrogen at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales de Madrid (CSIC) for possible future breeding.
In August 2012, researchers announced that the genome of the Iberian lynx had been sequenced. They also plan genetic testing of the remains of long-deceased lynx to quantify loss of genetic diversity and improve conservation programs. In December 2012, it was reported that researchers had located remains of 466 Iberian lynx in private and museum collections. However, it is estimated that 40% of specimens were lost over the preceding 20 years.
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