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Pedro Sánchez and Angela Merkel take a walk through Doñana.
Pedro Sánchez and Angela Merkel take a walk through Doñana. / R. C.

Lynx effect: Sánchez and Merkel in Doñana

  • The holidaying German chancellor was invited to tour the El Acebuche conservation centre that has helped increase the number of Iberian lynxes

  • The two leaders visited the centre caring for the endangered species in the National Park

The Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, enjoyed an outdoor excursion with their partners at Doñana National Park, near Huelva, last Sunday.

The focal point of the trip was a visit to the National Park facility where the endangered Iberian lynx has been protected and bred since 1992.

Last Saturday, the PM and the Chancellor disembarked at Doñana, via the Guadalquivir river after having lunch in Sanlúcar de Barrameda and moved on to the Palacio de las Marismillas, the government-owned residence in the park where the Chancellor was guest for the night during her summer holiday.

On Sunday it was off to the nearby wildlife conservation centre, El Acebuche, which is dedicated to the protection of the Iberian lynx, considered the big cat most in danger of extinction in the world. Just recently, and thanks to the work of conservationists, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has moved the Iberian lynx from 'critically endangered' to just 'endangered', but the work goes on.

Both leaders toured the centre where the first Iberian lynx was successfully bred in captivity back in 2005, thanks to a team of scientists led by Astrid Vergas.

Recently, the Iberian lynx population at the centre has been joined by eight of the twenty-nine specimens of the animal that have been rescued from a centre in the Algarve, a precaution during the fires that have burned areas in the southern part of Portugal.

Sánchez and Merkel first observed the lynx from monitors inside the building, then they had the chance to see the felines from just two metres away inside their enclosures.

They were accompanied by the coordinator of the programme, Francisco Villaespesa, who explained that the animals taken from Portugal are calm and in good health.

A common objective

There are five centres in Spain and Portugal that protect and help breed the Iberian lynx in captivity. Since the first three specimens that were successfully bred in the Doñana facility, Brezo, Brecina and Bris, 13 years ago, the number of lynxes has kept growing. Up to now, a total of 485 lynx have been successfully bred inside these centres, of which 215 have been released into captivity to strengthen the local population.

To breed an animal in captivity is never easy and it can take a lot of time for scientists to work out the best way to help these animals reproduce and, even after birth, it is usually quite a task to keep them alive.

Of the 49 kittens that were born this year at the centres, 39 survived, which is 80 per cent, a good result considering the 14-year average is 75 per cent.

The centres of El Acebuche, Silves (Portugal), Zarza de Granadilla(Cáceres ), La Olivilla(Jaén) and the Zoobotánico de Jerez (Cádiz) are leading the world in the protection of this local endangered species.