Reversing the trend

When the news is usually about animal species in decline and facing extinction it is refreshing to hear of those on the increase, especially when it is due to human intervention. Someone cares.

The Iberian lynx, one of the world’s most beautiful yet endangered animals had declined to less than a hundred fifteen years ago. However, due to careful captivity breeding and intensive study of the lynx, they are now over three hundred (though I am wary of exact figures as this animal is evasive and very secretive by nature).

I felt an enormous sense of privilege on 5 January 2002 when I spotted a lynx on the land adjacent to our house in El Chorro. Usually when I spot something rare my binoculars are in the house or car but not on this occasion. I could hardly believe my eyes.

It is much larger than a giant cat and its pricked-up ears and distinctive coat left me in no doubt. Normally nocturnal, in daylight they may snooze on the branch of a tree, before hunting for rabbits, their favourite food, at night.

Breeding the lynx in captivity is not easy. The gestation period is around seventy days. The number of kittens is usually two or three and in captivity the death rate is high. It gives great credit to those humans who have succeeded in achieving the increase in survival.

A few years ago the lynx would usually be found in the Doñana National park but the park itself is now in danger due to irrigation problems and so the lynx is more widespread in Spain.

What caused the sad decline of this beautiful creature? Hunting to make profit from the pelts is a factor. It is an illegal offence but this does not stop people keen to make money, and wealthy people in various countries with more money than compassion provide a ready market.

More land is being swallowed up for building or arable crops thus depriving the lynx of its natural habitat. The decline in rabbit population mainly due to myxomatosis and farmers’ war on bunnies has also shrunk the food supply. Trapping, although illegal, is also responsible for the decline as farmers who are anxious to protect livestock, continue to lay traps to catch rabbits, which also inadvertently catch the curious lynxes hunting them. Car accidents also kill many lynxes which is perhaps the result of its night time movement and camouflage coat.

I would love to see the lynx again but am resigned to the fact it is highly unlikely.

One word of caution. Do not approach a lynx. You may mean well but the animal sees an approach as an attack. It may run away but will defend itself if cornered. Children are especially vulnerable with their sense of curiosity.