Endangered Species Profile: The Iberian Lynx

This series of articles concerns endangered species which are less commonly covered in the media. Some of them might not seem as fascinating as the Snow Leopard or as majestic as the Blue Whale, but the truth is it doesn’t matter if an animal is beautiful or ugly, mysterious or mundane. Every link in the ecosystem needs to be preserved. In the second part of this series, I present to you the Iberian Lynx:

Photo Credit: (c)"Programa de Conservación Ex-situ del Lince Ibérico http://www.lynxexsitu.es"

The Iberian Lynx, whose scientific name is Lynx pardinus, is currently the most endangered feline species on Earth. As its name suggests the species is extant solely on the Iberian peninsula, with a majority of its surviving populations residing in Spain. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has classified the Iberian Lynx as ‘Critically Endangered’, a designation reserved for species which are on the brink of becoming extinct in the wild. Currently only two viable breeding populations exist: one in Doñana National Park and the other in the Andújar-Cardeña of the Sierra Morena mountain range, with a total number of approximately 100 L. pardinus present in both populations combined. Of the two, only the Andújar-Cardeña population is considered capable of long-term survival.

(Population Distribution of Iberian Lynx)

(Photo taken from Public Domain)

As the apex predator of the Iberian peninsula, L. pictus forms an integral part of the local ecosystem. As skilled and efficient predators they are capable of hunting quarry as large as small deer, though their principal and favored food source is the rabbit. The Iberian Lynx hunts by ambush when possible, concealing itself in thick brush or behind rocks and lying in wait until its prey approaches. Once its quarry comes within range the Iberian Lynx attacks with remarkable speed and strength, seldom failing to achieve a kill.

Since antiquity L. pictus has been a symbol to the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula. At the time of the region’s conquest by the Roman Empire, indigenous Celtibarian tribes held the Iberian Lynx as a mystical creature with links to the underworld. In the mythology of other Celtic people the lynx is associated with the god Lugus, referred to by Julius Caesar as “the Celtic Mercury”. Unfortunately much of the mythology of the Celtibarians was lost due to the Roman conquests and the true role of the Iberian Lynx in ancient Hispanic religion will likely never be revealed. Today, L. pictus is as a symbol of conservation both within the Iberian Peninsula and around the world.

In many ways, the fortunes of the Iberian Lynx are inextricably linked with those of the rabbit. The European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, originated on the Iberian Peninsula and historically thrived there, so much so that when the Phoenicians first colonized the region they christened it “the land of the rabbits” due to the animal’s virtual omnipresence in the region. However, due to extensive habitat loss and the introduction of foreign diseases rabbit populations on the Iberian peninsula have undergone a rapid decline.

In conjunction with the declining numbers of its natural prey, the Iberian Lynx is facing rapid changes in its environment. Due a scarcity of rabbits to forage undergrowth woodland terrains have become choked with thick brush, hampering the Iberian Lynx’s ability to ambush and pursue the few rabbits that remain. Due to its own decline other predator species such as the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) have become more prevalent. As the Red Fox preys on chickens and other livestock many farmers consider them to be pests and attempt to trap them. Unfortunately such traps are as lethal to the Iberian Lynx as they are to a fox.

The reproductive behavior of L. pictus presents yet another obstacle to their continued survival. Females only become fertile once they have secured their own territory, and even then only once per year (at the most). After cubs reach maturity, they leave their mother and siblings in order to secure a territory of their own. Mortality rates for newly matured cubs are high, as they often get hit by a car crossing a roadway or venture into a deforested region where there is no viable territory for them to claim. The solitary and dispersed nature of the Iberian Lynx also allows populations to easily become isolated due to land development, severely reducing the number of viable partners for females who are capable of breeding.

Works referenced and further reading:
http://www.iberianature.com/material/iberianlynx.htm
http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/search
http://www.bigcatrescue.org/cats/wild/iberian_lynx.htm
http://www.iberianature.com/material/iberianlynx.htm

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~ by ethmgallagher on February 17, 2010.

One Response to “Endangered Species Profile: The Iberian Lynx”

  1. I wonder what recent research efforts have taken place for the I. Lynx? As a recent graduate in Wildlife Biology with an interest in endangered species I try to keep up with what’s going on as much as possible (though right now finding a job is top priority). It’d be something interesting to look up. Especially what active methods are being pursued for the management and preservation of this species.

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