Back from the edge: The Iberian lynx population has risen to over 1,000

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The Iberian lynx population in Portugal and Spain rose to over 1,000 last year after 414 cubs were born as part of a joint breeding program. This was an important step in the conservation of the endangered species, said the Spanish Ministry of the Environment on Friday.

The initiative was launched in 2002 when the number of the Iberian lynx, a wildcat native to the Iberian Peninsula, fell to only 94 in Spain and none in Portugal due to agriculture, poaching and road accidents.

At the end of last year, 1,111 wild Iberian lynxes lived in the region, including 239 breeding females, the ministry said in a statement. The number was a record high since the species began being monitored, it said.

“With a 30% increase over 2019, this demographic curve allows us to be optimistic and draw scenarios that will distance the great Iberian cat from critical risk of extinction,” the ministry said.

An Iberian lynx runs after being released on December 14, 2009 in Villafranca de Cordoba, southern Spain. REUTERS / Marcelo del Pozo / File Photo

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In 2015, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) downgraded the Iberian lynx, a nocturnal wildcat with tufts of beard and ears, from “Critically Endangered”, as the ministry said, to “Endangered” thanks to the ongoing conservation efforts.

The World Wildlife Fund, a partner in the program, said the data is encouraging.

“This is a great success for nature conservation in Spain and the world. Few species can escape such a critical situation that the Iberian lynx found itself in,” said Juan Carlos del Olmo, head of the Spanish WWF.

To be classified as non-endangered, the Iberian lynx population would have to be above at least 3,000, including 750 breeding females, according to the WWF.

Del Olmo said this could be achieved by 2040, but much remains to be done to eradicate threats to the Iberian lynx such as road accidents and hunting, and to improve law enforcement rates for killing lynx.

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