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The World’s Rarest Feline Species: The Iberian Lynx

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The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is an endangered feline species that can be found in southern parts of Spain. Before their numbers rapidly decreased, the animals populated areas in both the south of France and the Iberian Peninsula, but this has since reduced to just two isolated breeding populations.

Dedicated wildlife tours to Spain offer an excellent opportunity to encounter these animals in two of their natural habitats. The stunning scenery around Coto Doñana and Sierra Morena make the experience even more worthwhile.

Physical Appearance

The Iberian lynx has a heavily spotted coat, usually tawny in colour with black or brown spots and white fur on the underbelly. Both males and females have prominent whiskers and black tufts or fur on the tips of their ears and tails. They also have distinguishing ‘beards’ of fur around their faces. The cats have muscular bodies, long legs and usually weigh between ten and 15kg and stand up to a metre tall. They mostly feed on rabbits, but will also hunt ducks, partridges or young deer. Though similar in many ways to the Eurasian lynx, Iberian lynxes are significantly smaller and usually weigh half as much.

Population and Habitat

Thanks to conservation programmes, the animals have been re-introduced to several areas in Spain and Portugal including Guadiana Valley, the Matachel Valley, Sierra Morena and Montes de Toledo. There are now approximately 400 adult lynxes, which is an astonishing improvement considering there were just 100 in the early 2000s. Generally, these cats tend to enjoy woodland, thickets and other shrub-like habitats.

Threats

Despite the significant improvement in numbers and the brilliant efforts of administrators and conservation teams, they still do face major threats.

Habitat loss caused by agricultural and structural developments is one of the most pressing issues. The habitats are often split up or completely destroyed in order to construct new roads or expand farmland, and from 1960 to 1990 this caused lynxes to suffer an 80% population loss. The animals are also frequently hit by vehicles, however in recent years Spanish national and regional authorities have begun taking preventive measures for this.

The conversion of natural habitats has also led to a decrease of food for these felines. Rabbits are their main prey, and since their numbers have decreased, so have the lynxes. Contributing factors were the myxomatosis virus and haemorrhagic disease, which both drastically affected the rabbit population.

Wildlife Tours in Spain

Nature lovers can enjoy an unforgettable experience encountering these wild cats on organised wildlife tours to Spain. With specialist nature tour providers, only the very best sighting locations are on the itinerary. Guides share extensive knowledge of the animal and their habitat, and travelling in small groups makes the experience much more personal.
About author: Desiree Michels

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in rare and endangered animals. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife tours organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

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