The Iberian Lynx is the world's most endangered feline. It is only present in Spain and Portugal, and it is believed that there are only about 300 specimens left in the wild.
The Iberian lynx (Lynx Pardina) is a feline that is much larger than a domestic cat. It is characterized by its robust appearance, his long legs and short tail with a black end, which it usually keeps upright in times of danger or excitement.
His ears are topped by a characteristic tuft composed of stiff black hair, whose function is possibly to break with the roundness of its head, thus enhancing its mimicry with the surroundings. The ruff of fur starting beneath the chin gradually increases in size with age. Young specimens that are only a few weeks’ old, lack the ruff of fur and have almost no tufts, and when individuals reach the age of about a year old, these two features start to become visible. Males have longer legs than females, as well as a difference in the size and length of the tufts of the ears and the ruff of fur. However, males and females are very similar in size during the first year of life. The bottom of the paws is wide and padded and allows them to move silently.
Their color varies from brown to gray, with dotted black flanks. There are three possible patterns for the fur:
- Small dots: many small spots that are spread evenly and densely, they tend to concentrate on the lateral flanks.
- Big dots (A): The spots are larger and have a tendency to arrange in lines, with two or more larger pairs of spots appearing at the level of the shoulders.
- Big dots (B): the spots are the same size as in type A, but there are no noticeable stains with a specific arrangement or particularly on the shoulder area.
Habitat and distribution
The Iberian lynx is found only in very limited areas of Spain and Portugal. The main habitat of the Iberian lynx is in Mediterranean forest areas that are well preserved, isolated from any human activity and with a presence of dense thicket. The size of their territory is determined by the abundance of preys, but on average it occupies about 10 square kilometers. In areas that are abundant in food, the territory of lynxes can be slightly smaller than in scarcer areas. Within this territory there are often different vital areas for the lynx: lower mountain areas for resting and hunting areas where the lynx will be active and which coincide with the ones where rabbits are more abundant.
Currently the best-preserved nuclei are limited to Eastern Sierra Morena, the oriental part of Montes de Toledo Oriental and Doñana. There are also small populations in Sierra de San Pedro and Sierra de Gata, Central and Western Sierra Morena and some points of the Sierras de Jaén and Granada.
The Iberian lynx is the only carnivore that is considered a specialist in rabbits. This species represents 80 to 90% of their diet. They also consume waterfowl, ungulates, partridges, small mammals and birds. The frequency of those in their diet depends on the time of year, and prey availability in the area.
In most cases, they live a solitary and nomadic life, being more sociable in the mating season. They are agile hunters. They silently approach the prey and jump on it quickly. Less frequently, they can hide and wait for the prey to come closer.
When the temperature increases, lynxes spend most of the time resting, in contrast to the rainy season. Young specimens are basically crepuscular and diurnal, with an increased nocturnal activity after their first year of life. During the winter, lynxes can be active for 24 hours a day, in contrast to almost strictly nocturnal habits in summer.
The sexual heat begins in January and February, earlier in southern regions than in northern ones. As already mentioned, lynxes are solitary animals, but at this time of the year they usually stay with their partners. The dens are made in well protected and hidden areas, such as between the rocks or in hollow trees.
Gestation lasts 62 or 63 days, after which the female gives birth to an average of 2 offspring. It is the mother who takes care of cubs. At four weeks, the den often changes, and two months later the youngsters are able to go hunting with their mother.
In autumn, the dispersal phase begins, during which the youngsters leave the home territory. Its dispersal potential may be considerable: they’re known to go through irrigated areas and eucalyptus plantations. Despite this, far too often these young felines encounter numerous insurmountable barriers such as roads, wells or traps, and do not reach their destination.
The Iberian lynx reaches sexual maturity after a year and a half and gets to live for 10-15 years.
The Iberian lynx was declared to be a protected species since 1966. It is the world's most endangered feline.
Among the 31 areas where lynxes used to be found in 1960, they are only present in eight of them. The evolution of the distribution of the species has been clearly regressive. Only in specific points the species’ distribution seems to remain in good conditions.
The lynx has been losing territory usually due to human infrastructure, and therefore populations have been separated from each other until little by little they have become totally unreachable from each other, fragmented and isolated by barriers of various kinds that prevent genetic exchange between populations. This is one of the most important problems for the conservation of the species.
In addition to the fragmentation of populations, they face other problems, such as:
- The decline in rabbit populations by diseases such as myxomatosis and viral hemorrhagic pneumonia.
- The loss of a suitable habitat, which is typically composed of dense vegetation areas and low human density. This has also been affected by the reforestation with fast-growing species (pine, eucalyptus) that prevent the growth of scrub and intensive farming with consequent over-exploitation of the herbaceous layer, which limits the rabbit population.
- Indirect hunting and non-selective hunting methods, such as traps.
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