EU must protect endangered lynx habitat to prevent its extinction

The Iberian lynx could be the first big cat to become extinct in 10,000 years if the European Union and Spain do not do more to protect the last 100 remaining animals, WWF has warned this week.

According to the international conservation organisation, the EU is actively contributing to the decline of the Iberian lynx through funding road and dam developments in the only remaining critical lynx habitat, which urgently needs to be included under the EU’s Natura 2000 network (see related story) of protected areas.

Only two isolated breeding populations of the species now remain in Southern Spain, a recent survey conducted by the Spanish government has revealed, and only a quarter of the remaining 100 lynx are breeding females.

There were thought to be around 160 lynx left around two years ago, but the area’s expanding road network has resulted in the death of many of the animals, and has been blamed by the WWF as the greatest cause of mortality for the species.

Spanish authorities have been urged for years to close the Villamanrique-El Rocio road, which runs right through the heart of Donana Natural Park and by doing so fragments critical lynx territory. The road was built using EU funding and several lynx have already been killed on it.

“With such a small population, the accidental loss of just one individual brings the species closer to the brink of extinction,” head of species for WWF Spain Luis Suarez warned.

“It is not acceptable that the European Commission’s support to projects aimed at protecting the Iberian lynx are flouted by simultaneous funding of harmful infrastructure schemes.”

The WWF believes that the current reform of the EU’s Structural Funds should correct such inconsistencies and guarantee that funds are no longer allocated to projects that could have a negative effect on endangered species.

Other factors cited as contributors to the lynx’s impending demise include dams that flood valley bottoms, which tend to be the best Iberian lynx habitat, illegal hunting, plummeting numbers of wild rabbits, the animal’s principle prey, and a large number of heavy public works.

But protecting the biological corridor that connects the breeding lynx population in the Donana National Park with the only other remaining one in Sierra Morena under the Natura 2000 programme is critical to their survival, experts have said.

“We know that these last two populations are absolutely critical for the very survival of these species,” director of the Global Species Programme Dr Susan Lieberman insisted. “All key areas for the Iberian lynx must be included in the Natura 2000 proposal for the Mediterranean region and the Villamanrique-El Rocio road must be closed.”

“The EU cannot pay lip service to environmental goals and then proceed to undermine them – it must take species conservation seriously.”

By Jane Kettle

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