By Fiona Govan in Madrid
Last Updated: 1:46am GMT 10/01/2007
The Iberian lynx is likely to become "the first big cat to die out since the sabre tooth tiger", environmental groups said yesterday.
Ecologists now believe that fewer than 160 lynx are left in the wild, struggling for survival in isolated pockets in the hills of Andalusia in southern Spain.
Lynx pardinus, the world's most endangered cat, was once found throughout Spain, Portugal and parts of southern France, with a population at the turn of the 20th Century estimated at 100,000. However, years of over-hunting coupled with the loss of forests cut down to make way for agriculture, saw the population drop to below 10,000 by the end of the 1980s.
advertisementBut the latest threat is coming from "illegal" roads built through Doñana National Park, one of the last natural breeding grounds of the species. Last year at least five of the elusive animals were killed after being hit by cars on former agricultural tracks before being upgraded for regular traffic without checks on the environmental impact.
"It is unthinkable that lynx should die on roads which shouldn't even be in this protected area," said Luis Suarez, the director of the Species Programme at WWF-Spain. ''At this rate, within a few years the lynx will be the first big cat to die out since the sabre tooth tiger, 10,000 years ago."
Environmental groups are lobbying the Spanish government to limit traffic through the park.