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The Recovery of Iberian Lynx Populations: The Greatest Conservation Challenge in the Iberian Peninsula for the XXIst Century?

Author(s): P. Sarmento

Journal: Wildlife Biology in Practice
ISSN 1646-1509

Volume: Iberian Lynx;
Start page: i;
Date: 2010;
Original page

The current dramatic status of Iberian lynx populations, associated to its ecological importance were the catalyzer for its classification as a top priority species for conservation both in Spain and in Portugal. In these countries the conservation of the species is supported by two official documents: the Spanish strategy for the Iberian lynx conservation [5] and the Portuguese Action Plan for Iberian lynx conservation [6]. These documents establish an ultimate goal to achieve the species' recovery and conservation through the restoration of historic population nuclei according to the IUCN guidelines for reintroduction [7]. This will primarily be achieved by reintroducing specimens born and raised in captivity, as a result of the success of the on-going captive breeding program [8]. This goal represents one the greatest challenges in terms of nature conservation for the Iberian Peninsula in the next decades, since it will require a significant reversal of the threats that lead this felid nearly to extinction, an optimal choice of reintroduction sites, a substantial amount of suitable animals for reintroduction, and massive funding. In addition, humans' attitude towards the restoration of the species should seriously be taken in to account, since reintroduction will occur almost entirely in private land and potential conflicts with a "new coming" predator could compromise the reintroduction's success. Reestablishing extinct Iberian lynx populations could be biologically feasible, but it would require a professional and well coordinated effort, since very few reintroductions involving captive-born cats were successful [9]. Although in some areas of Spain and a few in Portugal both habitat and prey are available to support viable, self-sustaining populations of Iberian lynxes, the presence of new populations could create new problems for governmental agencies as well as the general public. There will always be a remarkable ongoing need for public information and education because local opponents, if organized and politically supported, may be able to overcome a well planned and financed reintroduction effort despite statewide support. The Iberian lynx reintroduction faces considerable threats on several fronts. First, there is a continual loss of remaining potential habitat due to human development. This continuing decline in amount of available habitat reduces the carrying capacity and, therefore, the number of animals that will successfully establish territories. Second, in most of the Iberian Peninsula rabbit populations are still at reduced levels, which could compromise lynx reproduction [10]. Third, populations such as DoƱana are facing potential problems with pathogens that could also affect reintroduced populations [11].Taking all these factors into consideration it is crucial to joint the efforts of biologist, politicians, stakeholders, and the whole society. In this context the decision making process regarding reintroductions should be driven by solid science instead of local interests or political pressure. Considering the complexity of lynx reintroductions, the project should not only focus on biological-technical aspects, but also on valuational (public support, public interactions), and organizational aspects (co-operation, qualification of personnel and leadership, etc.) [12]. Scientific knowledge will be critical during the entire process, and with this special issue we aimed at giving a small contribution for increasing information on the Iberian Lynx, which could be vital for future conservation efforts.
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