A HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF THE IBERIAN LYNX
During the clear nights of new Moon, it is possible to observe an amazing shading light crossing the sky entirely: The Milky Way. From March to October, in the Northern Hemisphere, it gives its best, with the visible Galaxy centre, powered by a massive black hole at its brightest part, where Sagittarius, Scorpio and Ophiuchus constellations meet.
Framed by this amazing Galactic show, the CNRLI of Silves (Iberian Lynx National Breeding Centre) raised in 2009. This Centre, unique in Portugal, collaborates with other three in Spain in order to win one of the hardest challenges of the history of Conservation: re-populate the Iberian Peninsula of one of its two key top-predators, the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), which together with the Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus) once dominated this entire ecosystem from mountains to shrub lands.
<Being part of these great initiatives as volunteer is undoubtedly a wonderful experience to join my ideals and passions for Nature Conservation and see my efforts being part of something so important that can drive a change in near future.>
In the case of Iberian lynx, such wild cat species has listed in the IUCN as one of the most endangered feline in the world, The causes are many but readdressed to mainly three: fragmentation of its native habitats, decreasing of its main prey, the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and hunting and poaching techniques.
During 20th century the human expansion as well as the increasing demand of market products, induced exploitation (still ongoing today) about the soil of the in-land of Portugal and Spain. Thus, leading to great changes in habitats that saw the initial shrub lands being converted in intensive and extensive agricultural crops. This, together with hunting decreased the lynx populations so much forcing them to move in more limited areas to take shelter. Only due to these causes, the Iberian lynx experienced serious collapse of about 80% of its entire range (area used by predators), decreasing from 15 subpopulation, estimated in 1940’s, to solely two subpopulations, mostly observed in early 2000s in Sierra Morena and Doñana coastal plains . To make the matters worse, two great plagues very well known in Iberian such as Myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD), hit the rabbit populations, which declined dramatically from 1950s to 1990s for over 55%. It had a consequent repercussion on the Iberian lynx population, which strictly depend on this source of prey for about 75% of its sustenance.
On the verge of 21th century, the previous causes determined such a dramatic decline on this predator population that only 100 individuals of Iberian lynx were estimated in all Iberia.
Thanks to the government and conjugated efforts between Portugal and Spain, the Iberia lynx has been fully protected with conservation measures that goes beyond imagination. The plan for their re-population includes, not only the habitat restoration and increasing the wild rabbit population (propaedeutic for lynx re-introduction), but also the capturing of wounded animals and undertaking control breeding initiatives to guarantee a good genetic variability essential for the species conservation and increasing habitat biodiversity.
At the CNRLI of Silves (Portugal), under the supervision of the Dr. Rodrigo Serra, this conservation plan of capturing, breeding and releasing has managed to successfully free in the wild up to 73 Iberian lynxes in Portugal in the areas of Mértola, Serpa and the Guadiana National Reserve. Its data points to a gradual and constant recovery of the species in these territories but positive outcomes are also observed in Spain. The strategic approach performed at the Centre and the great concertation of veterinary experts, genetic biologists, monitoring experts, keepers and volunteers have been capable to gradually re-increase the chances to encounter in the Portuguese wilderness such majestic feline, once dominating the shrubs and plains of Iberia and only now starting to reappropriate of its natural environment.
A volunteer perspective…
As volunteer at the CNRLI and working on part of this amazing ambitious program of conservation and re-introduction, I found a hardworking team always available to clarify doubts or explain exhaustively all we, volunteers, needed to know.
Our work as ethology assistant involves monitoring the lynxes to guarantee the healthiest growth for the cubs and most of all, a successful “Re-introduction Training” before their release in Nature. Being part, even if only temporarily, of such big family that work together with in mind the purpose of Iberian Lynx Conservation is highly motivational and finally, after one century of adversities, Lynxes seem to see a shy glare upon them.
<The shot of the Milky-Way I took was not casual, the meaning I intended to give to this image was much deeper. The presence of this gentle glare in the night, not only enlighten the CNRLI, but also lit a hope for the future of the Iberian lynx population that only now, after 10 years of intense actions of conservation from both side (Portugal and Spain), saw its number grown again up to 326 individuals, which is an incredible outcome. I feel to have contributed for the right cause, and that this reaching has been a great step to celebrate for all the people working behind the scene in this conservation project.>
For those who may be interested to contribute for a noble cause, please you to read and spread information as much as you can about the Iberian Lynx to raise awareness for this splendid predator that deserve our outmost attention to fully recover.
To know more about Iberian Lynx, projects, news, and see the lynxes hosted at CNRLI please to check the following links:
If interested in possible volunteer programme please keep update on possible vacancies following the ICNF FB-page or checking the official web-site:
Thanks to all the team of CNRLI for this amazing experience and the job that all of them, more than anyone else are doing.
References for history and data:
 Rodríguez-Hidalgo, A.; Lloveras, L.; Moreno-García, M.; Saladié, P.; Canals, A.; Nadal, J. (2013). "Feeding behaviour and taphonomic characterization of non-ingested rabbit remains produced by the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus)". Journal of Archaeological Science. 40 (7): 3031–3045. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2013.03.006.
 Cabezas-Díaz, Sara & Lozano, Jorge & Virgós, Emilio. (2009). The declines of the Wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) in Spain: redirecting conservation efforts. andbook of Nature Conservation: Global, Environmental and Economic Issues. pp.283-310.
 Moreno, Sacramento & Beltran, Juan & Cotilla, Irene & Kuffner, Beatriz & Laffite, Rafael & Jordán, Gloria & Ayala, José & Quintero, M.C. & Jiménez, Antonio & Castro, Francisca & Cabezas, Sonia & Villafuerte, Rafael. (2007). Long-term decline of European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in south-western Spain. Wildife Research. 34. 652-658. 10.1071/WR06142
 Fordham, D.A.; Akçakaya, H.R.; Brook, B.W.; Rodríguez, A.; Alves, P.C.; Civantos, E.; Trivino, M.; Watts, M.J. & Araujo, M.B. (2013). "Adapted conservation measures are required to save the Iberian lynx in a changing climate" (PDF). Nature Climate Change. 3 (10): 899–903. Bibcode:2013NatCC...3..899F. doi:10.1038/nclimate1954. hdl:10261/84387.
 Lopez, G.; Lopez, M.; Fernandez, L.; Ruiz, G.; Arenas, R.; Del Rey, T.; Gil, J.M.; Garrote, G.; Garcia, M. & Simon, M. (2012). "Population development of the Iberian lynx since 2002". Cat News. 57: 34.