It is a rare success story that is exciting conservationists all over the world. The Iberian lynx, a species that was on the verge of becoming extinct 10 years ago has rebound with its numbers having tripled from 94 to 312 thanks to an innovative conservation program.
Miguel Ángel Simón, the director of the program for the recovery of the lynx in Andalusia, southern Spain says that there is still a long way to go but this is surely good news for the animal.
“We can’t claim victory yet but now there is hope.”
The animal was listed as critically endangered just five years ago.
What makes this program special is also the fact that it was singled out for the second time by the EU as an exemplary conservation program. The project has been jointly funded by the Andalusian government and the European Union.
Brussels is funding 40% of the €26m (£22m) needed to extend the project into the neighbouring regions of Extremadura, Castile-La Mancha and Murcia, as well as Portugal.
Simon says they first carried out a survey at the Lynx’s habitat in the Sierra Morena and the Doñana national park to find that the animal’s primary food was rabbit, but the parks had a very slim rabbit population as well.
They began breeding Lynx in captivity fearing that it would soon be extinct in the wild.
At the same time the Andalusian government launched a project in 2006 that involved farmers and hunting clubs and encouraged them to save the rare animal.
Gradually, Lynx spotting became a tourist attraction with 31 full-time jobs built around the conservation effort. Andalusia has 37 percent unemployment rate and thus the forestry work gave jobs to many also encouraging locals to boost the conservation.
During the second phase of the project, the narrow gene pool of the animals was expanded in the Doñana region by releasing Lynxes from the Sierra Morena region.
Simon says, thanks to the efforts of one male in particular, nicknamed Caribou, last year 61% of new-born lynxes in Doñana were descended from Sierra Morena animals helping the gene pool.
In May 2014 the third phase of the program will begin, introducing animals into Portugal and other regions.
The increase in the animals population proves how different people in a community can come together to create an environment that benefits them as well as the future of the animals. Hopefully, the Lynx will soon be totally out of danger.