Wild cat claws way back from extinction

A wild cat that was nearing extinction has clawed its way back, thanks to a captive breeding programme. 

The Iberian lynx – a black and white cat – is found in Spain and Portugal and is a bit bigger than a red fox. Its population declined to less than 100 by 2002 – partly due to the fact wild rabbit populations, their primary prey, were declining due to disease. 

This meant in the early 2000s, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned that the Iberian lynx was on track to become the first big cat to go extinct since the sabre-tooth tiger more than 10,000 years ago.

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But thankfully, they’ve managed to reverse the trend. Conservation groups have been reintroducing rabbits into the wild and fighting poaching against the cats. 

The El Acebuche breeding centre in southern Spain is one of five breeding sites set up. At El Acebuche, there’s a large, enclosed park which recreates the natural habitat of lynxes. 

When cubs are born there, they’re kept in captivity until they reach breeding age. Then, when they’re around one years old, the lynxes are tagged with GPS trackers and brought to their natural habitat where they’re set free. 85% of Iberian lynxes born in captivity are released into the wild.

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Incredibly, the breeding centres have released nearly 300 of the wild cats back into the wild since 2011. Several captive-bred animals have been released in southern and central Spain, including Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, Murcia and Portugal.

By the end of 2020, there were said to be more than 1,100 Iberian lynxes living in Spain and Portugal – although most of them were in southern Spain. According to WWF, the species will be considered out of danger after it reaches 3,000, including 750 breeding females.

How can you help? Protect the Iberian lynx’s habitat by planting a cork tree. And spread the word, says WWF, by sharing information on the animal and the conservation efforts

Image credit: Ondrej Prosicky / Shutterstock