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Historical and current distribution of the Iberian lynx

The Iberian lynx, known with the scientific name of Lynx pardinus, evolutionarily is part of the line of the large carnivores (tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards), from which it separates itself 3 or 4 million years ago. By their physical appearance, in an intuitive manner often is associated with any of the other lines of existing felines, but the Iberian lynx is closer to a tiger than to a cat on the evolutionary scale.

In the early years of the 20th century, Cabrera considers the Iberian lynx practically extinct in the North and East of the Peninsula and even abundant in the Center and Southwest. Despite this until 1937 were traded around 500 skins of Iberian lynx by year in Spanish furrier market. In 1953 was published a decree requiring the creation of the Provincial Boards of Extinction of Animal Pests, documenting the death of 152 lynx in Spain between 1954 and 1961. In this period were only recorded deaths of lynx in 6 provinces in the West and South of mainland Spain, probably indicating that in some other provinces the lynx should be extremely scarce at that time. Although the capture effort was not equal in the whole Spanish geography, it can be seen that probably the most abundant population and hardest hit by the seals outside were of the hills of Toledo. These boards had to contribute to the extinction of small populations existing in Spain.



  Male Iberian lynx of thick mottle, 1960. This specimen was captured when it was a puppy in the Sierra de Hornachuelos (Córdoba) in 1955 and transferred to the St. Vincennes Zoo (Paris). The Zoo attempts to catch a female to start the reproduction in captivity, this was unsuccessful.


In 1963, Valverde launches the first voice of alarm to estimate that the Iberian lynx distribution is restricted to 5 cores of the southwester Iberian Peninsula (Sierra de Gata, Montes de Toledo, Northwest of Badajoz, Sierra Morena and Doñana area) and some small kernel isolated Pyrenees and Iberian system where already doubted its existence at that time. This author based his work on data copies folded during the 25 years prior to the publication. When confronted with the evidence that the conservation of the Iberian lynx was threatened, it is legally protected in 1966. During the 80s, Rodríguez and Delibes made an estimate retrospective on the distribution of the Iberian lynx to 1960 on the basis of surveys, estimating a rather more extensive range of the estimate by Valverde. The difference in methodology could have done the first author underestimated the real and seconds range overestimate it, so the actual range for that time is probably intermediate between the results of both works.



 Distribution of the Iberian lynx in Spain at the beginning of the 1960s according to Valverde (left) and Rodriguez and Delibes (right). The first author used data from specimens shot down since the 1940s, while the second used retrospective surveys conducted in the 1980s, so that the real situation of the Lynx that time has to be some intermediate point between these two maps.


During the 70s decade of the XX century, several authors continue the exploration of the Iberian lynx in the Peninsula, getting different results depending on the methodology (search for indirect evidence, finding direct evidence and appointments). Based on all these works and proper information, Delibes estimates a distribution status for the species in 1979 that limits itself to 6 main cores: (Sierras de Malcata-Gata and Béjar, Toledo Mounts-Sierra of Guadalupe, eastern Sierra Morena , western Sierra Morena, hills of the south of Portugal and Preserve of Doñana) and small nucleus adjacent to these.


Distribution of the Iberian lynx for 1979 estimated by Delibes based on review of other authors and his own information. 

As it can be observed in all these works, the most important population nucleus in Spain during the 60s and 70s are the western spurs of the Central, Wild System of Toledo, Oriental Sierra Morena and Doñana. Although the lynx could be present in other areas, the small size of the population was already then threatening their survival. The Iberian lynx seems to extinguish in the Sierra of San Pedro, the Iberian System and most of the Central System during this two decades. During the filming of “Man and the Earth”, in the mid-1970s, Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente had great difficulties to find a site in Spain where he could use lynxes in his films. Finally, after a fruitless search for Extremadura, he obtained four specimens in the Mounts of Toledo that he would use in the images of the series.


Iberian lynx female shot dead in a hunt of foxes in Grândola (Portugal) in 1972


Male Iberian lynx captured wounded in Villafranca (Córdoba) in 1975 and moved to the Zoo of Córdoba. 


Between 1978 and 1988 there are evidences of the death of at least 356 Lynx in Spain, most of which were caused by poaching. At the end of the 80s the population of Mounts of Toledo, who had always been the most abundant in individuals of the peninsula, had been subjected to such a pressure that is found in a scene of pre-extinction. At the beginning of the 90 scientists of the Biological Station of Doñana try to capture specimens for a research project in one of the areas of the Mounts of Toledo, where higher density had been known in the past, without any positive results. Finally the study had to be done in the Sierra de Andújar. In 1990, Rodriguez and Delibes published the results of a study of estimation of the population of the Iberian lynx in Spain, during the 80s that demonstrate that the retrogression of the species continues. This work is based principally on the result of surveys realized to key groups and denotes that the Iberian lynx in Spain is distributed in 48 small unconnected nucleus grouped in 9 isolated populations (central western Sierra, Gredos, Alto Alberche, Sierra of San Pedro, Montes de Toledo-Villuercas-Monfragüe, Subbetical, eastern Sierra Morena, central Sierra Morena, western Sierra Morena and Doñana). It is estimated that they survived around 1200 individuals in about 11000 km2, of which only 1800 km2 are estimated at high density. The methodology used in this work, without a good evaluation of the quality of the appointments, can lead to overestimating the distribution of the species, fact that might justify that it will be considered to be the presence of lynx in areas that had already existed years earlier of their extinction. Nevertheless, the information is anyhow slightly pleasing, since almost all the described nucleus were small or presented low density, with the exception of oriental Sierra Morena. In 1996, Castro and Palma present a work based in the same methodology in Portugal that concludes that the Iberian lynx is only present in the saws of Malcata and of the Algarve.  The last sure fact of the presence of the Iberian lynx in the western spurs of the central system shapes the apprehension of a specimen with purposes of investigation realized in the saw of Malcata in 1992. This specimen supposes also the last sure fact of presence of the lynx in Portugal up to the arrival of the "Caribou" model proceeding from Huelva in 2009.


Distribution of the Iberian lynx estimated based on surveys for Rodríguez and Delibes for Spain in 1990 and for Castro and Palm for Portugal in 1996. 



 Distribution of the Iberian lynx in Spain in 2004 based on camera-trap and molecular analysis of droppings (areas of stable distribution) according to Guzmán and collaborators. In this epoch the lynx is already extinct in Portugal, according to Sarmento.


Methodological differences between the various jobs make the results may not always be comparable. This is because until this time all the works that have been done are estimates based on indirect evidence (searching of footprints and droppings, which we know that are sometimes difficult to assign to a species without genetic analysis), surveys (the veracity of the quotes and the meanings are not homogeneous), data of animals charged (can lead to an underestimate of the population), etc. At the end of the 1990s are about two techniques of monitoring the Lynx populations and they are much more sensitive than those that existed up to then: The photo-trapping and the genetic analysis of droppings. The combination of these two techniques allows us to detect any population of Iberian lynx, even if there are low densities. In 2004, Guzman and col. published the results of a work of exploration based on the combination of these two techniques that had been realized in Spain in the period 2000-2003, whose result is that only in oriental Sierra Morena and in Doñana there were still lynxes in a stable way (approximately 160 specimens distributed in 500 km2).

Once demonstrated, thanks to Guzmán and cabbage, the stage of pre-extinction of the Iberian lynx at the beginning of the XXI st century, start to perform actions of conservation to prevent the final extinction. Thus, in 2001 he began a program of performances, followed by a LIFE project between 2002 and 2006, a second between 2006 and 2011 and a third project LIFE Iberlince that began in 2011, and it will finish in 2016. As a result of the performances of conservation of these programs, in 2016 more than 400 lynxes have been taken into account in the wild condition (Spain and Portugal).


 Presence of the Iberian lynx in the area of the Doñana-Aljarafe in 2003 and 2016



  Presence of the Iberian lynx in the area of the Sierra Morena in 2002 and 2016


During the last decade populations of Iberian lynx have been subjected to intensive monitoring, that has been a tool of assessment of the preservation actions of the sort carried out by the Junta de Andalucía ,especially through the co-financed projects LIFENAT 02/E/8609, 06/E/0209 and LIFE NAT/ES/0570. The evolution of the population in these years of work has been clearly positive.


 Evolution of the Iberian lynx’s in Andalusia population from 2002 to 2016


* Lynx census

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