The 1,400 specimens that roam Spain and Portugal keep the feline from extinction and confirm the success of a rescue in which institutions and naturalists joined forces
The population of lynxes in the Iberian Peninsula has increased fifteenfold in just two decades. There are already almost 1,400 copies of this native feline that roam freely through the meadows, marshes and hills of Andalusia, Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha and the south of Portugal.
The figure means three things and all three are positive. That the lynx is finally beginning to escape from the clutches of extinction, that if nothing goes wrong in a few years it will be a consolidated species in its own natural habitat and that its recovery is the fruit of a successful scientific operation in which, unusually, everyone, institutions and society, have rowed strongly and in the same direction.
The annual census of ‘lynx pardinus’ has confirmed that last Christmas 1,365 specimens roamed the peninsula, including 277 females with reproductive capacity, 1,156 in the southern half of Spain and 209 in the southeast of Portugal.
The result of the count marks another record of lynxes in freedom since reliable data exists, among other things thanks to the birth of 500 cubs in twelve months. Last year was the third year in a row that the population of these wild cats increased by more than 20% per year. Almost a miracle if you take into account that only 20 years have passed since, in 2002, all the alarms went off when the technicians confirmed that the entire colony of Hispanic lynxes was made up of 94 specimens whose habitat had been reduced to two minimum territories in Doñana and in the Andújar mountains of Jaén. They were literally one step away from extinction.
By 2040 it is expected that the peninsula will have between 3,000 and 3,500 of these predators, with 750 reproductive females, with which the species can be considered safe
It was the year in which, first with very modest objectives, which grew in ambition over time, the Ministry of Ecological Transition, the Andalusian, Extremadura, La Mancha and Portuguese governments, the WWF naturalists and the European Union joined forces and resources, forgetting political colors and advantage. The joint effort allowed the creation of four captive breeding centers and the implementation of a very studied and controlled strategy to ensure that the subsequent reintroduction of these young specimens into the wild was a success. In this patient task, technicians and political leaders also had the collaboration of several hundred farm owners and hunting associations. The Spanish lynx rescue program is considered a global success in feline recovery.
The collective triumph is not only in the recovery of the lynx population, but also in the fact that the free-roaming specimens have returned to colonize part of their traditional habitat, composed, in addition to the two territories where they entrenched themselves as the last stronghold, on the two slopes Sierra Morena (Andalusian and La Mancha), the Montes de Toledo, the Extremaduran valley of Matachel and the Portuguese Guadiana valley. Andalusia, with 519 animals, has almost half of the free cats, but the pastures of Castilla-La Mancha, with 473 specimens, are being repopulated at breakneck speed, with a growth of 45% in 2021 alone. There are 13 documented nuclei population, twelve in Spain and one in the neighboring country.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Despite the good news, institutions and naturalists call for caution. The lynx has abandoned the situation of critical risk that it experienced with the passing of the century, but it is still within the parameters of danger of extinction. The encouraging data for 2021, however, confirm that the light is already visible at the end of the tunnel. A population viability study recently released by WWF calculates where the turning point will be located that will allow the survival of this species to be safely guaranteed.
Its technicians estimate that the “historic event” will be reached in about 18 years, when, thanks to the success and continuity of the recovery programs, the current specimens will have multiplied by two and a half or three. There will be between 3,000 and 3,500 lynxes in the wild in Spain and Portugal and at least 750 of them will be females with reproductive capacity. If these calculations are confirmed and the main enemies that put the felines at risk are confronted -the abuses and poaching with bullets, poison or lasso-, around 2040 what is officially called Favorable Conservation Status (ECF) will be reached. of the species. It can be considered out of danger.
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