The current fragile success of the recovery of the Iberian lynx population in Spain and Portugal provides encouragement for those in Britain who wish to reintroduce the Eurasian lynx (a larger lynx species) to un-fenced private estates in the UK, particularly in Norfolk, Cumbria, Northumberland and Aberdeenshire.
You may remember that there are proposals to introduce the largest of the lynx species, the Eurasian lynx to the UK after 1,300 years. It seems extraordinary that this wild cat species became extinct in Great Britain 1,300 years ago.
As for the extremely rare Iberian lynx, in 2002 there were 52 individuals but numbers climbed to 156 in 2012 after the species was reintroduced to Spain and Portugal where their very small and fragmented habitat is found. This is obviously a success story. I’m sure that a lot of people had little hope of such success but we should remind ourselves that we are referring to 156 individual cats. Is that enough to maintain a viable breeding environment and therefore sustain the population? It remains an incredibly small number. At one population size does inbreeding take place threatening infertility?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) puts the recovery down to a captive breeding and release scheme, the restoration of the population of the Iberian lynx’s prey, namely the rabbit, a clamp down on illegal trapping and a scheme under which landowners hosting Iberian lynx are compensated as and when required in order to conserve and protect the lynx on their land. Compensating farmers is a modern technique in wild cat conservation.
At the beginning of the twentieth century there were an estimated 100,000 Iberian lynx. It is surprising that a mere 52 mature individuals remained in 2002. Loss of habitat, trapping and car accidents together with a decline in the prey population achieved this shocking results.
They say that the success of the Iberian lynx conservation project indicates that this rare species is able to co-exist with humans in Europe in 2015. That’s what the experts say but I wonder whether that is actually a correct assessment. The Iberian lynx attracts a large amount of tourism.
The attraction of tourists is one of the motivating forces in the desire by some to reintroduce the larger Eurasian lynx to Great Britain. The Lynx UK Trust has plans to apply to the Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage for licenses to release up to six Eurasian lynx at each of the sites referred to in the first paragraph. Their progress will be monitored with satellite collars over a period of 3 to 5 years.