Iberian Lynx No Longer Endangered After Two Decades of Conservation Efforts

An iconic southern European species has had its conservation status upgraded after more than 20 years of collaborative recovery efforts.

The Iberian lynx, native to the Iberian peninsula from which it gets its name, has officially been bumped by IUCN from endangered to vulnerable on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. The organization made the announcement last week. Through a combined effort by governments in Portugal and Spain, local communities, and wildlife organizations, the lynx’s population increased from 62 adults in 2001 to 648 in 2022. Now, the entire population, including young lynx, is estimated to be just over 2,000. The majority are in Spain, particularly the Andalucía and Castilla-La Mancha regions. Their entire range, though, is now up to 3,320 square kilometers, compared to 449 in 2005.

The recovery has been attributed to the protection and restoration of Mediterranean scrub and forest habitat, reductions in human activity-related deaths, and efforts to increase the population of the lynx’s main prey: the European rabbit. Translocations and a breeding program have also been implemented to address the species’ genetic diversity, while more than 400 lynx have been reintroduced into Portugal and Spain since 2010.

IUCN Director General Dr. Grethel Aguilar says, “The improvement in the Red List status of the Iberian lynx shows that successful conservation works for wildlife and communities alike.”

The “bearded”, spotted, black ear tuffed Iberian lynx was once much more common across the Iberian Peninsula, but its numbers fell for a variety of reasons, including illegal hunting and habitat loss. A big driver was also falling populations of its main prey, the European rabbit. Rabbits have been overhunted, but they’ve also faced substantial population losses from diseases including the Myxoma virus and rabbit hemorrhagic disease. According to WWF, an adult lynx needs about one rabbit per day to survive, while a mother raising young needs to take three each day. With insufficient numbers, it can be hard to find that many.

Going forward, there are remaining threats, including any virus outbreaks in rabbits, diseases from domestic cats, climate change impacts to their habitat, poaching, and vehicle collisions, especially on roads that are constructed through their habitat. However, should conservation efforts continue, officials believe it’s possible for the species to recover within the next 100 years.

The LIFE Lynx-Connect project led the conservation action for the species. The project’s coordinator Francisco Javier Salcedo Ortiz says, “The greatest recovery of a cat species ever achieved through conservation, this success is the result of committed collaboration between public bodies, scientific institutions, NGOs, private companies, and community members including local landowners, farmers, gamekeepers and hunters, and the financial and logistical support of the European Union LIFE project. There is still a lot of work to do to ensure that Iberian lynx populations survive and the species recovers throughout its indigenous range. Looking ahead, there are plans to reintroduce the Iberian lynx to new sites in central and northern Spain.”