Friday, April 14, 2006

Birth of two Iberian lynxes boosts imperilled wild cat

Birth of two Iberian lynxes boosts imperilled wild cat  

 

By 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.

 

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.

 

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

 

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