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European lynx species rebounds from brink of extinction

European Lynx
Urki, a male Iberian lynx, a feline in danger of extinction, is released with other four lynxes as part of the European project ‘Life LynxConnect’ to recover this species, in the Arana mountain range, in Iznalloz, near Granada, southern Spain February 20, 2024. (REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo)
By Emma Farge | REUTERS

A species of European lynx found in remote areas of Spain and Portugal has rebounded from near extinction, with its adult population growing more than tenfold since the start of the millennium.

Wildlife experts are calling the recovery of the Iberian Lynx unparalleled among felines in an age of extinction in which species are vanishing at a rate not seen in 10 million years due to climate change, pollution and habitat loss.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which categorises species according to the level of risk they face in a “Red List” produced several times a year, bumped up the Iberian Lynx from “endangered” to “vulnerable” on Thursday.

While the Iberian Lynx shares the yellow eyes and short black stumpy tail with other lynx species, it is much smaller than them and has a distinctive black “beard” of long hair around its chin.

There were just 62 adults scattered across Mediterranean forests in 2001 but the population jumped to around 648 in 2022, IUCN said. Today, the population has risen to more than 2,000, counting both young and adult lynxes across a range of thousands of kilometers covering rocky mountainous areas and valleys.

Francisco Javier Salcedo Ortiz, Coordinator of the LIFE Lynx-Connect project, which led the conservation action for the Iberian lynx called it “the greatest recovery of a cat species ever achieved through conservation” and praised a range of actors including landowners, farmers, hunters and the European Union which provided financial and logistical support.

Efforts have focused on increasing the abundance of its prey, a species of wild rabbit which is also endangered, programmes to free hundreds of captive lynxes and restoring scrublands and forests. However, IUCN warned that gains could be reversed and said that threats included diseases from domestic cats and among the European rabbit population it feeds on as well as poaching and road kill.

IUCN is set to produce its broader Red List update which serves as a barometer of biodiversity next week.

Editor’s Note: Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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