Four Iberian lynx pups sleep peacefully next to their mother, Nota. A touching scene made possible by a breeding program and captive breeding of this emblematic species in Spain, which is close to extinction.
— with AFP
Sheltered from the sun, Sismo, Sicily, Senegal and Susurro, just three months old, rest in the center of El Acebuche, located in the Doñana National Park, a gigantic protected area in southern Spain. This center is one of five sites (four in Spain and one in Portugal) created in the 2000s to breed “Lynx pardinus” in captivity to reintroduce this spotted cat to its natural environment.
Victim of poaching and shortage of wild rabbitsbasis of its diet, the species had only 100 individuals in 2002 against more than 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century.and century and was then “critically endangered” of extinction, according to the “red list” of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). But the efforts of the authorities and NGOs have made it possible to reverse the trend thanks to the fight against poaching, the reintroduction of rabbits into the area and, above all, captive breeding. In 2020, for the first time, 1,100 individuals were identified.
A well-established breeding program
Although still threatened, the animal with long pointed ears ending in a thin tuft and thick white whiskers multiplied in Andalusia and reappeared in other Spanish regions from where it had disappeared (Extremadura, Castile-La Mancha), as well as in Portugal. “We are very satisfied and surprised with the result” of the reproduction and reintegration program, explains to AFP Antonio Rivas, coordinator of El Acebuche, for whom the network of centers is a real “factory to produce bobcats”. In a vast enclosed park recreating their natural habitat, lynxes live and breed while trainers strive to disturb them as little as possible.to prevent animals from getting used to human presence. “The main cause of death (of the lynx) in nature is linked to human activities: they are crushed, victims of poaching”then “the less interaction they have with humans, the better”, explains António Rivas. The cats feed on live rabbits, which are fed to them regularly. “We put two or three rabbits” in a kind of box that will automatically open a few hours later so that “Lynx don’t associate their presence with the caretaker”explains Antonio Pardo, one of these healers.
Bobcats are monitored day and night thanks to a system of cameras and microphones study the behavior of the animal closer to the tiger than to the cat. Sitting in front of screens and speakers, no detail escapes Blanca Rodriguez. “It’s nap time, let’s see them rest”she explains, showing on a screen “Note and Her Little Ones” who “everyone sleeps soundly”.
In March 2005, El Acebuche won the bid to register its first captive birth: three Iberian lynx cubs, two of which survived. The first litters remained in captivity for several years to give birth to other lynxes and to avoid capturing wild ones. But from 2011 onwards, reintroduction into the wild began and by 2020 305 lynx were released. “When they are about a year old, (…) we put them on a GPS collar and take them to an area of the Iberian Peninsula where we open the cage and… we go free!” exclaims Antonio Rivas. 85% of captive-born bobcats are released. Its survival rate is around 70% in the wild, where the female lynx has up to six cubs a year. But despite the very good results of this program, the IUCN keeps the “Lynx pardinus” in the “endangered” category, and the WWF estimates that it will take more than 3,0000 individuals to consider the risk to be gone.