Spain finds room for world’s most endangered cat

Olive groves with low production close to the Natural Park of the Sierra de Cardeña y Montoro, in Córdoba, are the most appropriate sites for restoring habitat suitable for reintroduction of the critically endangered Iberian lynx, Spanish scientists have determined.

This is also the the only place, along with Doñana National Park, where this species lives, FECYT (Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology) said in a statement this week.


Photo of Iberian lynx courtesy Miguel Rodríguez / SINC

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Iberian lynx, or Spanish lynx, as “critically endangered,” meaning it faces “an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.”

WWF says the Iberian lynx is the most endangered cat species on Earth. Only a few hundred individuals survive in isolated patches of mountain forest in southern and central Spain.

The Iberian lynx could be the first big cat to become extinct since the saber-toothed cat, says Fauna & Flora International. Watch this FFI video about the cat:

Video courtesy FFI.

The comprehensive study to find land suitable for habitat restoration for the cat had to weigh a range of factors, including optimal land use, the impact of human resettlement, and geographical features.

The process involves tough choices and illustrates how difficult it is to reverse human development.

“Researchers from the regional government of Andalusia’s Institute for Agricultural and Fishing Research and Training (IFAPA) have studied the impact and risk of these mountain olive groves being abandoned, in order to come up with an appropriate management system for them (conventional, mixed or organic), or to suggest they should be reconverted to Mediterranean forest,” FECYT said.

The risk of these olive groves being abandoned is “due to their location, which has serious socioeconomic implications (mainly in terms of the population leaving rural areas) and environmental ones (erosion and risk of fires),” said Manuel Arriaza, director of the study and a researcher at IFAPA.

“Although the olive groves have low production levels and high production costs, they are areas with great environmental value,” Arriaza added.

The researchers used georaphical information systems (GIS), and also took into account experts’ opinions about the commercial and noncommercial functions of the olive groves, as well as those of 480 people in the province of Córdoba about the importance that society places on these functions in agricultural areas, FECYT said.

“The scientists evaluated the socioeconomic functions (olive oil production and retention of the rural population), environmental ones (prevention of erosion and fires, conservation and improvement of biodiversity, with special focus on the habitat of the Iberian lynx), and cultural ones.

“The results suggest that the most highly-valued function of mountain olive groves is their ability to retain the rural population (24%), followed by production of olive oil (17%) and the prevention of erosion (16%).

“On the basis of the interviews and the geographical features of the area, the model’s final proposal suggests that 36% of the land should be planted to conventional olive groves, 23% should be reconverted to Mediterranean forest, 22% should be mixed olives and forest, and 19% organic olive groves.”

However, once the best areas for restoration of Iberian lynx habitat have been generically identified, “other aspects not covered by the initial land analysis should also be looked at before any action is taken, such as the size of the rabbit population present, or fragmentation of certain areas,” Arriaza said.