Save Iberian Lynx 2006

Saving the Iberian Lynx

Read Big Cat Rescue’s Daily Updates on Wildcats in the Wild at Field Projects

 

Birth of two Iberian lynxes boosts imperilled wild cat

 

Siberian LynxBy Elizabeth Nash in Madrid

Published: 14 April 2006

Two female Iberian lynx cubs have been born in captivity in southern Spain, and a pregnant female is expected to produce two or three cubs in coming hours, consolidating a captive breeding project to save the world’s most endangered wild cat from extinction.

Saliega, the lynx that made history last year by producing three cubs in captivity for the first time, has produced two more – Castañuela and Camarina – by the same father, Garfio. Another pregnant female, aptly named Esperanza (“Hope”), is expected to give birth imminently in the breeding centre at Andalusia’s Coto Doñana nature reserve.

Saliega’s cubs were born three weeks ago but scientists approached them for the first time only on Monday to establish their sex, measure them and make sure they were in good health. Vets kept well away from the mother while she gave birth but monitored every move via strategically positioned video cameras.

The latest birth “confirms that the captive breeding programme is working well as successful births have now taken place two years running”, Spain’s Environment Minister, Cristina Narbona, said yesterday. Efforts to save the endangered Iberian lynx “are on course”, she added.

A spokesman for Andalusia’s Ecologists in Action campaign group, Juan Romero, hailed the captive-breeding programme as “a success that gives us hope for the lynx’s survival”. Mr Romero added: “Now we must prepare natural habitats for the lynx to have its own extensive, permanent territory.”

Spain was gripped last year when “Sali”, as she was promptly nicknamed by an adoring nation, gave birth to Brisa, Brezo and Brezina. Every mew and snuffle, every twitch of their tufted ears, was captured on camera and projected on to a giant screen by their enclosure.

The drama intensified when, six weeks later, Brezo turned upon his weaker sibling Brezina in a fratricidal frenzy, and ripped his throat out. Scientists said it was usual for only two of a three-strong litter to survive: They found that when the mother’s milk declines, the cubs fight for the breast.

The two survivors are thriving, each in their 200sq m enclosure. They feed on live rabbits that scientists introduce into the enclosure for them to chase. But Brezo and Brisa may never be released into the wild, because they have become too habituated to human contact.

The plan is to release up to 60 specially bred lynxes into the wild in 2010. They would have to be prepared to be introduced into the wild almost from birth.

In addition to Saliega and Esperanza, scientists hope that another female, Aura, will soon produce cubs. They are aged between four and five, optimum cub-bearing age. Two other females, Aliaga and Adelfa, aged two, are considered too young still, but are said to be coming along nicely.

Some 150 Iberian lynxes remain in the wild, in Spain and Portugal. Numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years because disease has killed off the rabbits that are their natural prey, and because many are run over by motorists.

Siberian Lynx at Big Cat RescueTwo female Iberian lynx cubs have been born in captivity in southern Spain, and a pregnant female is expected to produce two or three cubs in coming hours, consolidating a captive breeding project to save the world’s most endangered wild cat from extinction.

Saliega, the lynx that made history last year by producing three cubs in captivity for the first time, has produced two more – Castañuela and Camarina – by the same father, Garfio. Another pregnant female, aptly named Esperanza (“Hope”), is expected to give birth imminently in the breeding centre at Andalusia’s Coto Doñana nature reserve.

Saliega’s cubs were born three weeks ago but scientists approached them for the first time only on Monday to establish their sex, measure them and make sure they were in good health. Vets kept well away from the mother while she gave birth but monitored every move via strategically positioned video cameras.

The latest birth “confirms that the captive breeding programme is working well as successful births have now taken place two years running”, Spain’s Environment Minister, Cristina Narbona, said yesterday. Efforts to save the endangered Iberian lynx “are on course”, she added.

A spokesman for Andalusia’s Ecologists in Action campaign group, Juan Romero, hailed the captive-breeding programme as “a success that gives us hope for the lynx’s survival”. Mr Romero added: “Now we must prepare natural habitats for the lynx to have its own extensive, permanent territory.”

Spain was gripped last year when “Sali”, as she was promptly nicknamed by an adoring nation, gave birth to Brisa, Brezo and Brezina. Every mew and snuffle, every twitch of their tufted ears, was captured on camera and projected on to a giant screen by their enclosure.

The drama intensified when, six weeks later, Brezo turned upon his weaker sibling Brezina in a fratricidal frenzy, and ripped his throat out. Scientists said it was usual for only two of a three-strong litter to survive: They found that when the mother’s milk declines, the cubs fight for the breast.

The two survivors are thriving, each in their 200sq m enclosure. They feed on live rabbits that scientists introduce into the enclosure for them to chase. But Brezo and Brisa may never be released into the wild, because they have become too habituated to human contact.

The plan is to release up to 60 specially bred lynxes into the wild in 2010. They would have to be prepared to be introduced into the wild almost from birth.

In addition to Saliega and Esperanza, scientists hope that another female, Aura, will soon produce cubs. They are aged between four and five, optimum cub-bearing age. Two other females, Aliaga and Adelfa, aged two, are considered too young still, but are said to be coming along nicely.

Some 150 Iberian lynxes remain in the wild, in Spain and Portugal. Numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years because disease has killed off the rabbits that are their natural prey, and because many are run over by motorists.

http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article357650.ece

Update from the field 3/26/02:

Killer bug threatens to wipe out last of Europe’s “Tigers”

The rare European cousin of the American bobcat and Canadian Lynx could be wiped out by a mystery killer disease, experts have warned.

The extinction of the Iberian Lynx would be the first of a big cat since biblical times – and could happen any day now. The disappearance of what is the only European big cat would spell a massive blow to efforts to conserve endangered species throughout the globe, they added.

The Iberian Lynx, sometimes called “Europe’s Tiger”, is almost identical in size and
appearance to its North American relatives. It inhabits the hills and forests of south-western Spain and Portugal.

According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), however, it is the most endangered big cat in the world. There are fewer than 300 animals left in
the wild, and none of breeding age in captivity.

Conservationists are now warning that it could disappear within a few short months, making this the first extinction of a wild cat in modern times.

The warnings came after a mystery fatal disease claimed the lives of a number of Iberian Lynxes in the last few days in the Donana National Park, a nature reserve for the animal in south-west Spain.

There are now thought to be just 20 (twenty) Iberian lynxes left in the world-famous park after the bug claimed a further three victims in the last ten days. The Donana park is one of only two places where the animal still breeds. Another four animals remain unaccounted for.

Government researchers are also struggling to locate more than 100 lynx that were found living in the Montes de Toledo hills south of the Spanish capital Madrid five years ago. Camera-trapping efforts have so far failed to find a single animal.

In neighbouring Portugal, there is thought to be just one lynx left in the Serra da Malcata national park, the only other lynx reserve on the Iberian Peninsula.

The lynx’s population has crashed in recent years because of habitat destruction, hunting, and diseases that have wiped out rabbits, which make up 85 per cent of the lynx’s diet.

SOS Lynx, a conservation group based in Portugal which is fighting to save the animal, said that if there was no captive breeding programme, the species could die out virtually overnight:

“The total population is now less than 300 animals,” said Eduardo Goncalves, a journalist who has been researching the animal for over two years. “Many are wandering vagrants desperately searching for food and shelter, or are starving
and too weak to breed. Most of the cubs born in the last few years have been shot, run over on highways, or caught and mutilated in traps.

Goncalves, who has just written the first book about the species, added: “There are emergency conservation programmes for cheetahs, tigers and leopards right around the world, but here in ‘civilised’ Europe we are doing nothing to save our own ‘Tiger’.

“If we don’t have a captive breeding programme up and running immediately, the animal will soon be gone forever. That means we will have the first extinction of a big cat in over two millennia, and it will happen here in western Europe. How
can the developed world insist that other countries preserve their wildlife if we let our own die out like this?”

Big Cat Rescue is negotiating with Eduardo Goncalves to add his project to S.A.F.E. In The Wild.  The following is a letter from him detailing the plight these beautiful Lynx face.  At this time we are checking out this new organization to insure that any funds donated by our supporters will really go to worth while projects to save these cats and not to administrative costs.

The situation for the Iberian Lynx is, broadly, getting worse. There are now estimated to be no more than 650 left, and possibly as few as 400. If current trends
continue, it will effectively be extinct in as little as 5-10 years. Current threats continue to be lack of prey (myxomatosis and haemorrghic viral disease have virtually wiped out rabbits), habitat destruction (continuing loss of traditional  mosaic of woodland, scrub and pasture to intensive agriculture, logging plantations for paper industry) and man-made causes (up to 80 per cent of young lynxes killed each year by traps, hunters or on roads). New threats include new infrastructure development schemes, such as major roads and large dams, which are further isolating already very fragmented populations, causing in-breeding, lower fertility, fall in genetic pool etc.

STATUS OF THE IBERIAN LYNX The Lynx Pardina is the most endangered feline in the world, according to the IUCN Red List. It is the only cat with a category 1 listing. Its current total population is estimated at 400. This represents less than half the levels a decade ago. Its range is restricted to approximately 48 scattered pockets in south-west Spain and Portugal. Most have only a few animals at very low density, and are increasingly isolated from neighbouring groups.

CAUSES Habitat destruction has caused the lynx’s range to shrink by 90 per cent over the last 4 decades. Large areas of Mediterranean maquis – a mosaic of scrub and woodlands – have been cleared for industrial logging plantations (mainly eucalyptus and pine) or – more recently – for ‘plastic horticulture’ (to supply early vegetables for northern European supermarkets) and also large numbers of new dams and roads.
Hunting is now outlawed and culls have ceased. However, poaching continues, and many lynxes are thought to be accidentally shot or killed in traps (set for other animals). Radio-collar studies indicate that as many as 80 per cent of young adult lynxes in dispersion (leaving natal territory to settle own territory) are killed every year in this way before they are themselves old enough to reproduce. The European wild rabbit constitutes up to 95 per cent of the lynx diet. Myxomatosis and (in the 1980s and 1990s) hemorrhagic viral disease have reduced rabbit populations to approximately 5 per cent of 1950s levels.

NEW ISSUES: New European Union subsidy regimes are set to give added advantage to the planting of new eucalyptus and pine plantations in wild areas, whilst reducing the incentive to maintain indigenous native oak woodlands. This is
compounded by the current campaign by some major store chains to promote plastic corks in favour of traditional corks in wine bottles. Many of the remaining lynx groups live, breed and rear their young in cork forests. Cork represents the main
cash income for traditional farmers. Without the demand for cork, these woodlands may be replaced by plantations. There is some evidence this is already happening (i.e. destruction of the famous ‘Whistler Tree’ forest). Spain and Portugal have
embarked on a major campaign to build a large number of new dams within the next few years, and before the accession to the EU of Eastern European countries where resources are then more likely to be focused. At least 12 of the remaining 48 populations may lose their habitats shortly, whilst others may find new barriers
between them and neighbouring groups. A number of new highways are also being built, which will accentuate the current trend to growing isolation of groups, which is leading to serious genetic problems (i.e. coat patterns disappearing, chromosomal damage to male lynx sperm, falling fertility, vulnerability to new diseases such as
Bovine TB, melanistic fur types indicative of recessive gene appearing etc). Most of the new dams and roads are to service the expansion of tourism (i.e. golf courses) as well as intensive irrigated agriculture and logging.

SOS LYNX This new group was formed earlier this year, bringing together lynx experts and biologists, habitat specialists, conservationists and environmentalists. The organization – whose full name is SOS LYNX: Associacao de Defesa da Fauna e Flora – was registered as a charity in Portugal in May (no.: 505584433), and seeks to
preserve not just this species but also the unique ecosystems it inhabits and which has traditionally supported local communities through sustainable mixed farming systems. SOS LYNX believes that the plight of the lynx is symbolic of the grave threat to these communities and landscapes, which – as several studies have shown
– are the most biodiverse in Europe, and may play a significant role in stalling desertification and climate change. Already, SOS LYNX has begun a number of areas of work:

1. A challenge to the destruction of the Vale do Guadiana (for the Alqueva dam, Europe’s largest reservoir) which – as well as being a lynx habitat – is home to unique fish and plant species, and rare mammals and birds. The current felling of 1.5 million trees here represents the single largest act of deforestation in Europe in modern times.

2. Supporting local communities in carrying their views about traditional/plastic corks to the international media. Cork can represent the vast majority of income (80 per cent or more) for traditional farmers. SOS LYNX is also developing new outlets for cork, such as insulation materials for energy-saving programmes in northern European homes.

3. Working with local farmers to develop new products and markets for the highly endangered ‘scrub’ element of Mediterranean maquis. Because of huge rural exodus, there is little demand for strawberry tree berries (traditionally used for making alcohol) or rock rose branches (used to heat bread-baking ovens). Many such areas are therefore cleared to make way for plantations or intensive agriculture. SOS LYNX is seeking to develop the highly concentrated vitamin C content of strawberry tree berries for synthetic use in order to help farmers preserve these habitats for
lynxes and other wildlife. We are also looking to develop the potentially highly valuable essential oils (for perfume) of the rock rose for the same reason.

4. We are working with land-owners and hunting associations to introduce inoculated rabbits and artificial breeding warrens in areas known to be inhabited by the lynx, and helping these groups to gain access to grants for alternative, environmentally-friendly land-uses (i.e. eco-tourism).

5. We are also working to raise awareness among the public and policymakers about the species and its needs (we are shortly publishing a book in three languages with stunning new photos of lynx in the wild – all proceeds go to conservation work – and also a web-site will go on-line soon, hopefully later this month, address: www.soslynx.org ). A number of leaflets and education materials are also currently being prepared. SOS LYNX has already and will continue to work with the international media to raise this issue.

6. SOS LYNX is seeking to buy pockets of land inhabited by lynxes but which are threatened by new logging operations, and also existing plantations between neighbouring populations in order to create natural ‘habitat corridors’ to be used during the mating season and to end isolation of groups.

SOS LYNX depends entirely on volunteers, who have funded its operations to date. We are now seeking major financial support in order to implement the urgent conservation measures on the scale required to stall its increasingly rapid drive
towards extinction, and also educate the public and policymakers of the wide environmental and social benefits to preserving the species and its habitats. SOS LYNX hopes to work in partnership with all those interested in preserving the
unique forests, communities and wildlife of the Iberian peninsula in order to convey these messages effectively onto the international arena. Without such exposure, there is little pressure on national or international authorities to help preserve these areas. SOS LYNX believes that a major international effort is urgently needed if the apparently imminent extinction of this species is to be avoided.

Eduardo Goncalves, for SOS LYNX  sos.lynx@clix.pt

Unrelated update by WWF  below:

May 22, 2001
Iberian Lynx Census Releases First Camera Trap Results


Caught on film: “Adena”, the first lynx to be photographed by the WWF survey in Sierra Morena.
© WWF-Spain/Adena.
WWF-Spain/Adena has released the first images of Iberian lynx caught on camera during a photo-trapping census in Sierra Morena and Montes de Toledo.

The camera traps have been installed on some of the 11 private estates where WWF has secured agreements with landowners to help protect the endangered lynx.

 

The hunting estates are vital to the dwindling Iberian lynx population and leases for the rabbit shooting rights funded by the Fundación Biodiversidad of the Spanish Environment Ministry aim to boost the number of rabbits, the lynx’s principal prey.
Iberian lynx captured by photo traps in Spain’s Sierra Morena.
© WWF-Spain/Adena

The first animal captured on camera, a mature female, has been named “Adena”. However, after several months in action, none of the camera traps in Montes de Toledo have succeeded in photographing a lynx. This is worrying conservationists because Montes de Toledo is recognised as the second most important area for Iberian lynx.

Source: Jesús Cobu Anula, WWF-Spain/Adena

Among the factors threatening the Iberian lynx, (Lynx pardinus) (the most
endangered species of all the Felidae), loss and fragmentation of its habitats are probably the most important. Connectivity between the remaining populations in the predominantly fragmented landscapes is a key factor in the dynamics and persistence of metapopulations. Based on the data collected during a long-term study on the ecology of this species  in a small and fragmented population in SW Spain, I analyse the factors affecting connectivity between the two main sources and the rest of localpopulations. Connectivity was estimated as the proportion of dispersers from a source that reached a given subpopulation. Among the explanatory variables considered, only distance (both straight and effective distance, which takes into account habitat quality between local populations) and location of the source were clearly related to connectivity. Some other variables describing landscape features separating sources and target subpopulations (proportion of unsuitable habitats, patch cohesion, size of targets, overall size of subpopulations closer than the target) were not related to connectivity. Differences in the landscape surrounding sources help to explain the different connectivity from the two sources. An asymmetrical connectivity between the two sources and populations surrounding them (north and south) is likely explained by the configuration of habitats encountered by dispersers, which force those from one source to behave as crossers of unsuitable habitats. These results have consequences for the conservation of Iberian lynx populations and for ecologically similar species. Distance, the factor most affecting connectivity, is difficult to manage, although at least size and configuration of usable patches can be modified. Connectivity could also be improved through recovery of habitats with cover, suitable for dispersing. Reduction of mortality risks would also enhance connectivity indirectly, by allowing longer times and larger areas covered during dispersal. In the case of the study population, it is urgent to promote connectivity with other Iberian lynx populations due to genetic consequences of small population size and effective isolation.

Vegetation structure and prey abundance requirements of the Iberian lynx: implications for the design of reserves and corridors.

1. Habitat alteration and fragmentation are two of the greatest threats to biodiversity. The conservation of most species in highly encroached areas requires reserves that are connected by suitable habitat corridors to increase the effectiveness of the area under protection. However, the quality required for such corridors is still debated. This study investigated the habitat characteristics (vegetation structure and prey abundance) of sites used by resident and dispersing Iberian lynx in south-western Spain.
2. Vegetation structure and an index of rabbit abundance (the staple prey of lynx) were measured at sites used by radio-collared lynx in 1996 and 1997. Data from 128 plots used by resident lynx and 310 plots used by dispersing individuals were compared with data from 162 randomly located plots in sites considered to be unused by lynx.

3. Resident sites had a lower percentage of tree cover, shorter tree height, higher percentage of tall shrub cover, higher percentage of overall understorey and higher number of rabbit pellets than both dispersal and unused sites. The height of the short shrub layer was taller and the rabbit abundance index was higher in dispersing sites than in unused sites.

4. Gender did not affect habitat selection by lynx. During dispersal, lynx frequently (50% of cases) used vegetation patches narrower than 300 m. In these cases, sites used by lynx had higher understorey cover and taller shrub height than adjacent unused sites. The percentage of short shrub cover used by lynx increased with the length of time taken to disperse;  this was the only variable that changed over time.

5. Range size of resident individuals declined significantly with the index of rabbit abundance but increased with the percentage of short shrub cover. Both variables were good predictors of range size.

6. The study shows that corridors connecting reserves do not have to be prime habitats; they can even support moderate habitat degradation due to human activity. This result has implications both for the conservation of existing corridors, and for the restoration of the many corridors between reserves that have been lost.

Guillaume Chapron
PhD student
Laboratoire d’Ecologie CNRS
Ecole Normale Sup=E9rieure
46 rue d’Ulm, 75230 Paris Cedex 05
France

Dear Carole March 22, 2004

Eduardo has asked that I reply. He’s on paternity leave at the moment, and is very busy with new twin boys!

I’d like to thank you for your donation which has arrived safely, we will be using the funds to raise awareness of the Lynx in Portugal. We have recently managed to get two major items on national TV, and you can also see a report on National Geographic at web site

 

You can also see a video report on the National Geographic website: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/tv/channel/highspeed/2004/03/20040308news.html
again, thank you for your help Stephen Hugman
Tesoureiro/Treasurer
SOS Lynx – ADFF
Rua Julieta Ferrão nº 12, Torre A, Piso 6 – Gabinete 606
1600-131 Lisboa, Portugal
Tel 217 970 062  Fx 217 970 064
sos.lynx@clix.pt www.soslynx.org

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