MADRID (Reuters) - At least two Iberian lynx cubs have been born in western Spain, naturalists said on Wednesday, the first wild births in decades of the world’s most endangered feline species outside the southern region of Andalucia.
The births in Badajoz province are a positive step in a program to reintroduce the spotted nocturnal cat to the wild in different parts of Spain. The scheme has more than tripled the animal’s population in the last 12 years, despite deaths by road kill and poisoning, and reintroduced it to Portugal, the only other country to have the Iberian lynx.
Slightly larger than a red fox and distinguished by its white and black beard and black ear tufts, the lynx has seen its numbers ravaged in the last 150 years by farming, poaching and road kills.
There are now over 300 of the animal in the wild but fears still remain that the Iberian lynx may soon become the first cat species to become extinct for at least 2,000 years, the World Wildlife Fund says.
The two cubs, seen from long distance by monitors in the Matachel valley in Badajoz, were born to a two-year-old female released in the area in June last year, the conservationists in charge of the program, Iberlince, said.
“For now, we have spotted two cubs, although females tend to have up to three in a litter,” an Iberlince spokeswoman said.
Most Iberian lynx are in the Donana national park and Sierra Morena mountains in Andalucia, but the program has reintroduced captive-bred animals to the Spanish regions of Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura and Murcia, as well as Portugal.
Seven lynx died on roads around the Donana national park last year. Also holding back the cat’s reintroduction is the shrinking population of rabbits, the lynx’s main prey, due to a highly infectious virus known as rabbit haemorrhagic disease.
Reporting By Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Susan Fenton