Climate change and illegal water extraction add to threats against Iberian lynx

An awful lot has been done to bring back the Iberian lynx from near extinction but it might all be undone because of global warming and years of agricultural overexploitation which have combined to lead the largest permanent lake in Doñana National Park to dry up. It is one of Europe’s most important wetlands.

The Iberian lynx and the Imperial Eagle are two species which have suffered from the water shortage. And you might know that the Iberian lynx is the world’s most endangered cat.

Iberian lynx
Iberian lynx. Photo: Pinterest
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There were fewer than 100 left in the wild in 2002. Twenty years later there are four times that number but their numbers have declined in Doñana National Park, a reserve in Andalusia, southern Spain from 93 individuals in 2013 to 76 in 2015.

Their habitat is fragile and in addition to threats from global warming causing a drought and agricultural usage of water from illegal farms and wells, there is also mining, river dredging and gas extraction. These activities risk stealing or polluting what little water there is in the park.

Iberian Lynx Continued Threats 2022
Iberian Lynx Continued Threats 2022. Infographic prepared by MikeB at PoC.

Their future is insecure. The recent drought which is sucking the life out of this prized wetland has sparked alarm in Spain. The government has pledged to invest €350 million in the UNESCO world Heritage site.

Ecologists say that it is dying due to climate change and the misuse of water as mentioned.

And so the plan includes the closure of illegal wells which had been built to irrigate strawberry crops. They’re going to do this by increasing the number of environmental agents and punish the farmers who steal water.

The head of the World Wildlife Fund in Spain, Juan Carlos del Olmo, welcomed the news as a positive step but he warned that this treasure of a national park was “in the most dangerous moment in its history”.

Conservationists have expended a lot of energy in protecting the Iberian lynx. One way has been to use camera traps to track and better understand this elusive species. They live in some of the wildest and most remote locations in Spain.

The Iberian lynx is perhaps the most monitored cat species on the planet. In addition to the Doñana National Park they are also distributed in the Sierra Morena. The World Wildlife Fund tells us that every individual Iberian lynx has been studied and given a name! That’s how intense the conservation has been.

Comment: it surprises me that the Spanish government has been lax enough to allow businesses to extract water illegally to grow strawberries from one of Europe’s most important wetlands. Political atrophy and a dilatory approach comes to mind.

A similar approach can be found in the world’s governments tackling climate change. That is a universal challenge. Spain cannot do it alone. Personally, I have great doubts about successfully protecting this wetland because of the failure of governments to tackle global warming effectively.

To return to the camera monitoring of the Iberian lynx, it helps prevent poaching and also to identify which roads are dangerous for the cats to cross. Comment: it is surprising to an outsider like me to see that there are still Spanish people who want to shoot to kill the Iberian lynx. That is what poaching is all about.

And another great threat to this endangered cat species is its prey, the rabbit, which accounts for 90% of its diet. Rabbits are at the base of the food chain in the forests of Andalusia with 30 species dependent upon them. In recent decades diseases have devastated rabbit populations. This increases competition to feed on rabbits which has impacted the survivability of the Iberian lynx.

The World Wildlife Fund has been calling for more measures to help rabbit populations to recover in order to assist the lynx. Their work on lynx conservation began in 2002. They say that they celebrated the birth of over 50 lynx kittens during that time and restore the territories of eight female lynxes in this critical habitat.

The struggle to save the world’s most endangered cat species continues and is dependent partly on world cooperation in tacking global warming. A tall order.

Below are 10 pages on the Eurasian lynx, a different species:

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