|Decades ago range map|
|2003 range map|
The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), sometimes referred to as the Spanish lynx, is a critically endangered species native to the Iberian Peninsula in Southern Europe. It is the most endangered cat species in the world. According to the conservation group SOS Lynx, if this species died out, it would be the first feline extinction since the Smilodon 10,000 years ago. The species used to be classified as a subspecies of the Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx), but is now considered a separate species. Both species occurred together in central Europe in the Pleistocene epoch, being separated by habitat choice. The Iberian lynx is believed to have evolved from Lynx issiodorensis.
While the Eurasian Lynx bears rather pallid markings, the Iberian lynx has distinctive, leopard-like spots with a coat that is often light grey or various shades of light brownish-yellow. Some western populations were spotless, although these have recently become extinct.
The head and body length is 85–110 cm, with the short tail an additional 12–30 cm; the shoulder height is 60–70 cm. The male is larger than the female, with the average weight of males 12.9 kg and a maximum of 26.8 kg, compared to 9.4 kg for females; this about half the size of the Eurasian lynx.
The Iberian Lynx has four sets of whiskers: two groups on the ears and two on the chin. It uses these to sense its prey.
The Iberian lynx is smaller than its northern relatives, and typically hunts smaller animals, usually no larger than hares. It also differs in habitat choice, with Iberian lynx inhabiting open scrub and Eurasian lynx inhabiting forests.
It hunts mammals (including rodents and insectivores), birds, reptiles and amphibians at twilight. The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is its main prey (79.5-86.7%), with (5.9%) hares (Lepus granatensis) and rodents (3.2%) less common. A male requires one rabbit per day; a female bringing up cubs will eat three rabbits per day.
As the population of rabbits in Spain and Portugal has declined, the Iberian lynx is often forced to attack young deer, fallow deer, roebuck, mouflon and ducks. The Iberian lynx competes for prey with the red fox, the meloncillo (Herpestes ichneumon) and the wildcat. It is solitary and hunts alone; it will stalk its prey or lie in wait for hours behind a bush or rock until the prey is sufficiently close to pounce in a few strides.
The tufts of hair on its ears helps it to detect sources of sound; without them, its hearing capacity is greatly reduced. The edges of its feet are covered in long thick hair, which facilitates silent movement through snow. A lynx, especially with younger animals, will roam widely, with ranges reaching more than 100 km. Its territory (~ 10–20 km2) is also dependent on how much food is available. The Iberian lynx marks its territory with its urine, droppings and scratch marks on the barks of trees.
During the mating season the female leaves her territory in search of a male. The typical gestation period is about two months; the cubs are born between March and September, with a peak of births in March and April. A litter consists of two or three (rarely one, or four to five) kittens weighing between 200–250 grams. The kittens become independent at 7–10 months old, but remain with the mother until around 20 months old. Survival of the young depends heavily on the availability of prey species. In the wild both males and females reach sexual maturity at one year old, though in practice they rarely breed until a territory becomes vacant; one female was known not to breed until five years old when its mother died. The maximum longevity in the wild is 13 years.
Siblings become violent towards one another between 30 and 60 days, peaking at 45 days. A cub will frequently kill its littermate in a brutal fight. It is unknown why these episodes of aggression occur, though many scientists believe it is related to a change in hormones when a cub switches from its mother's milk to meat. Others believe it is related to hierarchy, and "survival of the fittest." No matter the reason, conservationists must separate the kittens until the 60 day period is reached.
This lynx was once distributed over the entire Iberian Peninsula. It is now restricted to very small areas, with breeding only confirmed in two areas of Andalucía, southern Spain. The Iberian lynx prefers heterogeneous environments of open grassland mixed with dense shrubs such as Arbutus, lentisk, and Juniper, and trees such as Holm oak and Cork oak. It also prefers mountainous areas covered with vegetation: maquis or "Mediterranean forest".
Studies conducted in March 2005 have estimated the number of surviving Iberian lynx to be as few as 100, which is down from about 400 in 2000  and down from 4,000 in 1960  If the Iberian lynx were to become extinct, it would be the first big cat species to do so since the Smilodon went extinct 10,000 years ago.
The only breeding populations are in Spain, and were thought to be only living in the Doñana National Park and in the Sierra de Andújar, Jaén. However, in 2007, Spanish authorities have announced they have discovered a previously unknown population in Castilla - La Mancha (Central Spain). It was later announced that there were around 15 individuals there.
The Iberian lynx and its habitat are fully protected and are no longer legally hunted. Its critical status is mainly due to habitat loss, poisoning, road casualties, feral dogs and poaching. Its habitat loss is due mainly to infrastructure improvement, urban & resort development, tree monocultivation (pine, Douglas-fir, eucalyptus) which serves to break the lynx's distribution area. In addition, the lynx prey population of rabbits is also declining due to diseases like myxomatosis and hemorrhagic pneumonia.
On March 29, 2005, Saliega, the first Iberian Lynx to breed in captivity, gave birth to three healthy cubs at the El Acebuche Breeding Center, in the Doñana Nature Park in Huelva, Spain. On March 22, 2008, Saliega gave birth to three more kittens at the El Acebuche centre. These kits were born at 64 days gestation. One of the young was rejected by the mother, and the Junta de Andalucía’s Environment Department reported on March 24 that the rejected kitten has died.
In the Sierra Morena area just north of Andújar, Andalucía, there were 150 Iberian Lynx individuals overall in 2008, up from 60 in 2002. As a result of this increase, the lynx area in Andújar-Cardeña has probably reached its carrying capacity, and thus could provide animals for future reintroductions elsewhere. In addition to these on-site conservation achievements in the Sierra Morena, the off-site conservation captive breeding program has also progressed well, totaling 52 individuals, 24 of which were bred in captivity. The off-site conservation population will provide 20 to 40 individuals per year for reintroductions beginning in 2010. Finally, in Doñana National Park, the lynx population seems to have remained steady in recent years, with around 50 individuals reported in total each year between 2002 and 2008. On March 20, 2009, it was announced that three more cubs were born as part of the breeding program at Doñana National Park, in Huelva. The Iberian Lynx is planned to be reintroduced into Guadalmellato beginning in 2009, and into Guarrizas sometime in 2010 - 11.