The Iberian Lynx: Native To Spain, Will Global Climate Change Spell Doom For This Beautiful Cat?

Filed in Gather News Channel by on July 23, 2013 0 Comments

Iberian Lynx cubs

The Iberian lynx, a medium-sized wild cat that calls Spain and Portugal home, is undeniably beautiful. It is also undeniably the world’s rarest feline, with only 300 living in the wild.

However, climate change may destroy any chance that these cats have of surviving in the future, according to an article by Tia Ghose that appeared in LiveScience on July 21.

Why would climate change affect these cats so severely?

A warming climate may well decimate rabbits, which are the cat’s main prey. Rabbits make up 90 percent of the cat’s diet. A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change noted that an increasingly warm and dry climate may kill off plants that the rabbits depend upon, and then kill off the rabbits as well, spelling doom for the Iberian Lynx, LiveScience reports.

This enigmatic cat, with its characteristic beard and lovely yellowish grizzled fur, once roamed throughout Spain and Portugal; however, several tragedies, including the ugly human habits of habitat destruction and poaching, combined with diseases that have knocked down the rabbit population has also meant that lynx populations are plummeting.

However, despite the feeble-minded claims of climate change deniers, the rapidly warming world poses a risk to many species, including the polar bear, the North Atlantic right whale, giant panda, orangutan, the African elephant, tigers, many species of frogs and sea turtles, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

In a report, Extinction Risk From Climate Change, which was published in 2004 in the journal Nature, scientists reported that one million species may become extinct by 2050. The study was cited by an article which appeared in the BBC news.

Using computer models that simulated the ranges of 1,103 species—including plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, butterflies and other invertebrates, scientists gauged how the different species are expected to move in response to both temperature and climate changes. The ability of species to move to new areas was also studied.

The conclusion didn’t look promising.

Iberian Lynx resting

For all practical purposes, it’s likely that between 15 to 37 percent of all the species in the regions that were studied will become extinct due to climate changes some time before 2050, the article mentions.

One of those species to become extinct may well be the Iberian lynx. The cat is now confined to two tiny regions of Andalusia, LiveScience reports. More than $123 million has been spent on conservation efforts to reintroduce the lynx into southern Iberian peninsula, part of the cat’s former range.

These efforts don’t work, Miguel Bustos Araujo, a biogeographer at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, said in the article.

Instead, reintroducing the cats further north may save them and help the population rebound, Araujo said. The scientists came to this conclusion after using climate change models to predict how the rabbit population could fare in the face of climate change. Then they correlated that with the population models that relate the lynx population to the cats’ main prey.

Conservation programs need to take climate change into account, Araujo said in the article.

“On the one hand, conservation is demanding changes in the whole economy, less carbon emissions,” Araujo said. “But when they have a program, they usually forget about climate change.”

With so many species in trouble, conservationists definitely have their hands full. In the case of the Iberian lynx, perhaps reintroducing it further north is the answer. Maybe by doing so, the cat will continue padding through the twilight, hunting for a nice rabbit dinner.

The Iberian lynx is a medium-sized wildcat, about one meter long, according to Arkive. Both sexes typically form territories, and the male’s territory overlaps those of several females.

When they are about one-year-old, females are able to breed, but will only do this once they have their own territory. January and February are the peak of the mating season for these cats, and 1—4 kittens are born two months later. Mom cares for her kittens in a lair that may be in a thicket or a hollow tree, Arkive mentions. The kittens are weaned when they are about eight months old.

It is to be hoped that Araujo and his fellow scientists are correct, so that this rare and precious cat can continue to stalk the earth.

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons:

  • By http://www.lynxexsitu.es [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • By http://www.lynxexsitu.es [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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