Ten endangered Iberian lynxes have been released into their natural habitat as part of a project to increase their numbers.
The last two to be released, a female called Rwanda and a male called Rubens, were born in a breeding centre in Santa Elena, in the southern Spanish province of Jaen, in 2020, where they were cared for but in a way that avoided human contact, so that they could be released.
After a year there, the two lynxes were released in the Toledo Mountains, in the province of Toledo, in the central Spanish region of Castilla–La Mancha.
Biologist Paco Sanchez is a technician from the Department of Sustainable Development at the government of Castilla-La Mancha and one of the experts participating in the region’s ‘Life Lynx Connect’ reintroduction programme.
He explained to Real Press that the habitat into which they were released had been checked to ensure they have enough rabbits to hunt. They are also monitoring their social behaviour with other lynxes living there.
Sanchez also said: “Their breeding is done carefully, without human contact and before being released, they should have learned hunting techniques in order to guarantee their survival.”
In total, 104 Iberian lynxes have been released in Castilla-La Mancha since 2014, which is when the programme began.
According to Sanchez, “they have adapted very well, and the survival rate is between 60 and 65 percent, which are very good numbers.”
The biologist also explained that this programme is very important for the Iberian Peninsula as the Iberian lynx used to have strong numbers before a massive decline from the 1950s onwards.
This situation was caused, according to Sanchez, by illegal hunting, with farmers considering them a threat to their livestock. Their numbers were also affected by a disease that affected rabbits, their main prey.
The Iberian lynx population on the Iberian Peninsula in 2002 had dropped to a mere 100 individuals.
But now, with the reintroduction programme taking place in different parts of Spain, the population of Iberian lynxes has increased almost nine fold and according to the last data from 2019, there are now around 855 lynxes on the Iberian Peninsula.
In 2020, 146 lynxes were born in the wild, so it is believed that the population is steadily increasing.
However, the situation is still difficult for this species, which suffers from numerous threats. It is still listed as endangered on the IUCN’s Red List. According to Sanchez, their main threat is the fact that they are run over by vehicles while trying to cross roads, which cut their natural habitats and make it hard for them to interact with other lynxes.
Poachers are another problem, often resulting in lynxes dying prematurely. The animals fall into traps left there for other animals or are shot by hunters. Sanchez explained that lynxes are not hunted for their meat or fur, as there are laws in Spain banning their commerce.
Sanchez said that the Iberian lynx plays an important role in the ecosystem, such as “regulating the herbivorous populations, controlling disease and regulating small carnivorous populations.”