Thursday, June 25, 2009

Spain: Saving Iberian lynxes from extinction

Saving lynxes from extinction

DONANA NATIONAL PARK (Spain) - ROAD signs throughout the vast Donana National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site in southwestern Spain, warn drivers to watch out for lynxes.
But there is little chance of spotting a member of the world's most endangered feline species, although collisions with vehicles are a risk.
Less than 50 of the creatures are believed to roam the park's 335 sq km of scrubland, forests and marshes, one of the two remaining pockets of Spain where the Iberian lynx is known to survive in the wild.
At the start of the 20th century there were around 100,000 in Spain and Portugal. But urban development, hunting and, most of all, a dramatic decline due to disease in the number of wild rabbits, the lynx's main prey, meant that barely 150 remained in the wild in 2002.
And the spotted cats, which can grow to about one metre long and weigh about 15 kg, were in danger of being the first feline species to become extinct since the sabre-toothed tiger 10,000 years ago.
In a compound within the park, veterinarian Astrid Vargas has been running a captive breeding programme for the past five and a half years to bring the Iberian lynx back from the brink of extinction - and with remarkable success.
Ms Vargas, an American from Puerto Rico, began the programme in December 2003 with five adults in Donana, four females and a male.
Last month, a total of 17 surviving cubs were born in captivity in Donana and in another breeding centre in La Olivilla, in Jaen province in south-central Spain, the most since the programme began.
There are now 77 lynxes in captivity at the two centres run by Vargas and in the zoo in the southwestern city of Jerez. Ms Vargas, who also holds a PhD in conservation biology, said she has now reached her goal of 30 adult males and 30 adult females necessary to begin reintroducing the species to the wild.
Two more breeding centres are also planned, in southern Portugal and in western Spain's Extremadura region, to cope with the growing numbers. -- AFP
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