IBERIAN lynxes – the most endangered feline species in the world – have made a remarkable comeback thanks to costly efforts by Spanish conservation specialists. Now the population has dropped back to dangerously low numbers as the wild cats fall victim to fast cars and a lack of road maintenance.
The lynx has been an unexpected casualty of the economic crisis, with accident-related deaths soaring since it began in 2008. Last year 22 lynxes died from car accidents – a drastic increase from 2008, with only two deaths.
Although farming, poaching and a decline in wild rabbits – their preferred prey –ravaged population numbers in the past, the World Wide Fund for Nature warns that cars are the greatest threat to the future of lynxes.
“It’s revolting because it’s a problem that could easily be fixed,” said Ramon Perez de Ayala, species programme director at the WWF in Spain. In order to protect lynxes, he suggests clearing underbrush from the wayside, installing barriers along roadsides and constructing bridges or underpasses to safely cross roads.
“With the excuse of the economic crisis, we have not even carried out the most basic road maintenance works,” said Perez de Ayala, who estimated the cost of implementing his suggestions at about €6 million.
The lynxes, found only in Spain and Portugal, have enjoyed a recent resurgence due to tireless efforts by conservationists. Ten years ago, population numbers were bleak, with less than 100 lynxes left in the world. At that point, activists began to work, raising more than €40 million to set up the conservation effort – called LIFE Iberlince – most of which was raised by the Andalucian regional government. The money was used to fund captive breeding and contract conservation teams to trap, tag and release the animals back into the wild.
The efforts of conservation centres – located in la Doñana, Jaen, Caceres and Portugal – have paid off, with population numbers rising from 100 to 300 in the last ten years. Conservationists continue to fight to ensure the survival of the lynx, now from the fury of the roads. They are taking the WWF’s warning seriously: act now or the lynx could be first big cat to become extinct since the sabre-tooth tiger disappeared some 10,000 years ago.