2008-11-16 12:57 AM
A total of 82 Iberian lynx were born in Spain this year, including 21 in captivity, raising hopes for the survival of the world’s most endangered big cat species, officials said Friday.
“We now count 200 Iberian lynx on Spanish territory, including these latest births,” the director of the Life Lynx conservation project and a leading expert on threatened felines, Miguel Angel Simon, told reporters.
The spotted cats, which can grow to about one meter long and weigh about 13 kg – about the size of a domestic dog – live in scrub forest in southern Portugal and southwestern Spain.
Hunting, road deaths, and most of all a sharp drop due to disease in the number of wild rabbits, the lynx’s main prey, has led to dwindling numbers.
There were 100,000 Iberian lynx at the beginning of the 20th century but the species now risks becoming the first large feline to become extinct since pre-historic times, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Spain has launched an emergency breeding program to prevent them becoming extinct, which initially called for reintroductions into the wild to begin in 2010.
But because of the high number of births in captivity this year, they will now begin in 2009, the environment councillor the government of the southern region of Andalusia, Cinta Castillo, said.
“We have made much progress,” she said, adding it would not make sense to keep the animals in captivity.
The Iberian lynx was one of 188 mammals which the International Union for Conservation listed last month as being critically endangered, the highest category of endangerment for an animal still found in the wild.
The last cat species to go extinct was the saber-toothed tiger some 10,000 years ago.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org