The Iberian lynx is a wild cat that is in extreme danger of extinction.
There are still privileged places where nature continues on its way, changes and evolves as it always has. Places such as the Doñana National Park, in southern Spain, where hundreds of species live governed only by the laws of nature and the pace of the changing seasons.
The river Guadalquivir, at the point at which it pours into the Atlantic ocean, in south-west Andalusia, has created a series of ecosystems that have together been declared a World Heritage Site.
Unfortunately, ideal habitats like those of Doñana are fast disappearing from the map.
With the reduction of the forests, the lynx populations have become isolated, which has led to endogamy, with the resulting weakening of the species.
To this must be added the fact that successive epidemics of myxomatosis and viral haemorragie disease have decimated the rabbit population, which makes up 90% of the lynx’s diet.
Together, these circumstances have turned the Iberian lynx into the most threatened feline on the planet. In the past 25 years, its population has fallen spectacularly, and during the 1990s the threat of extinction seemed closer than ever.
In addition, given the lack of food, it came dangerously close to inhabited areas, where it came into contact with wild cats from which it caught diseases against which it had no defence. There were frequent encounters with dogs and, as if that wasn't enough, it brushed up against its worst enemy, human.
The low numbers of Iberian lynxes and the scarce and distant distribution of these, led the Nature Conservation Commission to approve, in February 2001, a programme for the conservation of the species ex situ, that is, away from its natural habitat. The place chosen to carry out this project was the El Acebuche centre, in Doñana National Park, and the person in charge of directing it was Dr. Astrid Vargas.
The primordial objective is to achieve a population of seventy lynxes in captivity, and then begin to reintroduce them in places where in the past there were lynxes in the wild.
The techniques used at the El Acebuche centre have made it possible to make considerable progress in our knowledge of these animals; and, moreover, we must take into account the fact that never before had it been possible to study the Iberian lynx twenty-four hours a day.
Thanks to this, they have accumulated a huge amount of data that have permitted great advances in knowledge of the physiology, territoriality, habits and sexual behaviour of these felines.
The work is divided into observation of the animals, the constant gathering of data and their subsequent analysis.
And, as it is a completely new area of experimentation, the exchange of information with experts in other medium-sized felines such as Eurasian lynxes or bobcats can help to overcome certain difficulties.
The National Park is one of the best places in Europe to observe wildlife in its natural environment; its importance is such that it must be protected by legislation to guarantee its conservation.
The El Acebuche ex-situ breeding centre, the Department of the Environment of the autonomous community of Andalusia and the Ministry of the Environment are combining efforts to ensure the Iberian lynx does not disappear.
SEPRONA, the international scientific community and numerous ecological groups are permanently monitoring the success of the project.
It looks as if the future will smile on the Iberian lynx. The admirable work of the breeding in captivity programme, the restoration of optimum forest areas for the felines to live in the wild and increasing public awareness will help make the dream a reality.
Having reached this point, the hopes of the lynx lie with their ancestral enemies: us, human beings.