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Convention on the conservation of european wildlife and natural habitats

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Strasbourg, 26 April 2000 T-PVS (2000) 17

[Bern\T-PVS 2000\Tpvs 17e_2000]



Group of Experts on Conservation of Large Carnivores
Oslo, 22-24 June 2000

Action Plan for the conservation

of the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus)

in Europe

Document established by

Miguel Delibes, Alejandro Rodríguez and Pablo Ferreras
(Final draft, revised 01/0/3/2000)

Miguel Delibes1, Alejandro Rodríguez2, Pablo Ferreras1

1 Dept. of Applied Biology, Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC, Avda. María Luisa s/n, 41013 Sevilla, Spain; 2Grimsö Wildlife Research Station, Dept. of Conservation Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 730 91 Riddarhyttan, Sweden

With the contribution of:

Paula Abreu, Miguel Aymerich, Juan Carlos Blanco, Javier Calzada, Luis Castro, Maria Helena Ceia, Jesús Cobo, Giulia Crema, Susie Ellis, Margarida Fernandes, Néstor Fernández, Luis Mariano González, José Antonio González-Oreja, Christian Gortázar, Luis Llaneza, Luis Palma, Francisco Palomares, Rosario Pintos, Eloy Revilla, Rafael Ruiz, Pedro Sarmento, Jon Swenson, Astrid Vargas, Rafael Villafuerte

Funded by

WWF International - Mediterranean Program

The process behind the elaboration of the action plans
Each Action Plan was first elaborated by the author in early 1998. These first drafts included input and comments from many experts throughout Europe. In October 1998, governmental experts then discussed the Plans at a meeting organised by the Council of Europe in Slovakia, after which the authors incorporated the comments received.

The Plans were then reviewed by the Bern Convention Contracting Parties in December 1998 and again by the European Commission and EU governmental experts at a meeting of the Habitats Directive Scientific Committee in September 1999. All the comments received (and forwarded to the authors by the Commission via the Bern Convention Secretariat) were included in the final draft version presented at the Bern Convention Meeting of The Contracting Parties in December 1999. At this meeting, some governments advised that they still wished to comment on National Actions related to their respective countries and they were given until end February 2000 to send their comments to the Council of Europe.

The authors have made every effort to incorporate all the comments received into the final Action Plans and apologise unreservedly should any have slipped through the net. It is clear from the above that these Plans have been through an exhaustive, collaborative process and received a wide consensus, culminating in Recommendation No. 74 (Dec 1999) of the Bern Convention Contracting Parties, December 1999. Where differing figures have been given by various national experts (in particular as regards population numbers), every effort has been made to include both (or all) totals.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the WWF, the Council of Europe or the LCIE and its affiliated organisations. None of the organisations mentioned above, nor any person acting on their behalf, is responsible for the use which may be made of this document.

The designation of geographical entities in the publication and the presentation of material do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the LCIE, WWF or the Council of Europe, or their supporting organisations concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

May 2000
Species action plans

Large Carnivores in Europe

Europe once offered a wide range of natural habitats for its large carnivore species. Today, however, relict brown bear populations are dangerously small and highly fragmented in Southern, Central and Western Europe. The Iberian lynx has recently been labelled by the IUCN as the most critically endangered cat species world-wide. Wolf populations are under intense human pressure throughout most of their range. The Eurasian lynx has disappeared in much of Europe and even though wolverine numbers in Fennoscandia appear to have stabilised since it became protected, illegal hunting is still a constant threat.

Like many conservation issues, the future of Europe's large carnivores is dependent on cross-border co-operation between nations and, importantly, on managing their interaction with human activities. The challenge of conserving large carnivores is complex and must involve a wide range of stakeholders including land managers, local communities, governments, international Conventions and NGOs.

In response to this challenge, WWF International (the World Wide Fund for Nature), together with partner organisations and experts in 17 European countries, launched a Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe (LCIE) in June 1995. Since its inception the Initiative has grown rapidly with experts from 25 countries actively involved and many others expressing interest. The aim of the LCIE is to support and build on existing initiatives or projects across the continent, avoid duplication of effort and make the most efficient use of the available resources. One of the many activities that was identified as being of priority for the conservation of Europe's large carnivores was the elaboration of Pan-European Conservation Action Plans for the five species.

Species Action Plans for the Conservation of the Brown Bear, Wolf, Eurasian Lynx, Iberian Lynx and Wolverine

This Species Action Plan is one of a series of Pan-European Action plans elaborated for each of the five species at present dealt with under the LCIE (Brown Bear Ursus arctos, Wolf Canis lupus, Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx, Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus and Wolverine Gulo gulo). The plan should be seen as complementary with the other four plans and actions should be co-ordinated with those taken under the other plans since in many cases a natural guild of native predators is desirable.

The plans go beyond detailed analysis of local populations' needs and focus on the specific problem issue of managing the species throughout Europe, stressing the necessity for a continental approach and co-ordinated national efforts. It is hoped that one of the great values of these Plans will be that they generate a coherence to actions throughout the whole range of each given species.

These Plans are not management plans per se, but rather aim to form the basis for decisions at international level pointing at the importance of using populations as the management unit, which are often transnational. These Pan-European plans stress the need for national management plans to be drawn up in collaboration with neighbouring States where necessary. This is underlined in all of the Action Plans, and in order to facilitate this process a volume on Guidelines for developing Large Carnivore Management Plans (D. Hofer and C. Promberger 1998) has just been produced by the LCIE.

These Plans serve as an important communication tools and their recommendations should be used to influence players in the conservation sphere at local, national, and international levels. They also provide a baseline record against which to measure change in future years as well as a common framework and focus of action for a wide range of players.

The responsibility for the elaboration of the plans was assigned to teams working under some of the top European international experts for each species. During the preparation of these action plans the authors consulted a wide spectrum of sources including management authorities, researchers, NGOs and the literature.

This open process will culminate in a workshop for governmental experts in Slovakia in October 1998, organised by the Council of Europe (Bern Convention Secretariat) specifically to discuss the five Action Plans. After this workshop, the revised final versions of the Plans will be presented to the Bern Convention for endorsement.

The Council of Europe document "Guidelines for Action Plans for Animal Species" [T PVS (ACPLANS) (97) 8] underlines the importance of producing Action Plans for large carnivores at a Pan-European level: "It also makes good ecological sense to choose species that serve as protective "umbrellas" for other species. Such a single species effort avoids many bureaucracies and provides many "inclusive benefits". Umbrella species are species whose own area requirements provide some index on the area requirements of the ecological systems that support them. Top carnivores or other large-bodied, long-lived, slowly reproducing species at the top of their ecosystems food-chain are good examples...." The document states that “ The Council of Europe through its Committee of Ministers or the Bern Convention's Standing Committee are in excellent position for endorsing such Plans.”


It is very important that these Action plans once "endorsed" are acted upon. These Action Plans should guide national authorities in the elaboration of National Plans and the implementation of these plans must be carried out by professional teams that involve a wide range of appropriate interest groups. The plans themselves can act as important fund raising tools to help spark off the implementation. In countries where more than one of the large carnivore species is present the elaboration of National Action Plans (as recommended by these Pan-European Action Plans) for each species should be in harmony with one another.

Common Themes

All five Action Plans have clearly identified a number of important common themes, which include the following fundamental guiding principles:

  • there is a need to concentrate conservation efforts at the population level, which often requires cross-border co-operation;

  • where re-colonisation of areas by large carnivores is desirable, the following principles should be applied:

  • priority should be firstly support natural re-colonisation,

  • secondly to work on the augmentation on non-viable populations,

  • thirdly to release animals into areas in order to join up non-viable populations, and

  • finally, to carry out releases into new areas;

  • it would be highly desirable that each country sets up a specific body that is responsible for large carnivore management issues, and who would be charged with the preparation of national management plans (A single body that is responsible for all large carnivore species is desirable);

  • wherever compensation systems are in place, these should be tied to prevention incentives;

  • with regard to identified "problem" animals, which create local damage, emphasis should be given to maintaining populations and not by concentrating on individuals (apart from rare exceptions);

  • in-depth and scientific human attitude studies (including work on conflict resolution) have to be initiated.

The points made above just give a brief indication of some of the more important common themes or principles that are shared by all five action plans that have been elaborated as part of the series

Finally we would like to thank the authors, all those who have provided data and comments and the Council of Europe for all the hard work and support that has been put into this. We would also like to thank WWF Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Mediterranean Programme and the Council of Europe for providing the funding for the elaboration of the Plans. We hope that these plans will form the basis for collaborative pan-European conservation work for these species over the next ten years, and that the success can be an example to other Initiatives.

Magnus Sylven (WWF International, Chair, LCCG)

William Pratesi Urquhart (LCIE Co-ordinator)

Executive summary 8

1. Introduction 9

2. Background information 9

2.1. Limitations of the available information 9

2.2. Description of the species 10

2.3. Distribution and population numbers 10

2.3.1. The status of the Iberian lynx in Spain 10

2.3.2. The status of the Iberian lynx in Portugal 12

2.3.3. General status and population trends 13

2.4.Life history 13

2.4.1. Food requirements 13

2.4.2. Habitat requirements 14

2.4.3. Activity and home range 14

2.4.4. Social organisation and density 14

2.4.5. Reproduction 15

2.4.6. Dispersal 15

2.4.7. Lifespan 16

2.4.8. Interactions with other carnivores 16

2.5. Lynx and humans 16

2.6. Threats, limiting factors and obstacle to conservation 16

2.6.1. Deterministic factors 17

2.6.2. Stochastic factors 21

2.6.3. Obstacles to conservation 21

2.7. Conservation status and recent conservation measures 23

3. Goals and objectives 24

4. Actions required to meet goals and objectives at the European level 24

4.1. Lynx conservation: co-ordination and planning 24

4.2. Habitat protection and restoration 25

4.3. Rabbit population recovery 27

4.4. Reduction of mortality causes 28

4.5. Public education and information 29

4.6. Protection of the areas of actual presence of the species

and promotion of their connection 30

4.7. Reduction of the risks of inbreeding 31

4.8. Captive and “semi-captive” breeding 31

4.9. Monitoring and research 32

4.9.1. Estimation of presence and abundance 32

4.9.2. Population dynamics 33

4.9.3. Habitat requirements 33

4.9.4. Inter and intra-population genetic variation 33

4.9.5. Landscape ecology and lynx conservation: design of corridors 34

4.9.6. Population ecology of rabbits 34

4.9.7. Parasites and diseases 34

4.9.8. Identification of public values and attitudes towards the conservation

of the Iberian lynx and the Mediterranean scrubland ecosystem 34

5. Required actions by country 34

6. References 35

7. List of contributors 37

8. Tables 38

Executive summary

Amongst the European large carnivores, the Iberian lynx is the only endemic species. Hence, Europe must ensure the preservation of the lynx to keep coherence when claiming similar efforts in other parts of the world. Another remarkable feature of the Iberian lynx is its qualification as the most endangered felid species in the world, given its low total population size, its highly fragmented distribution, and its declining population trend and strong range contraction during the last century. These characteristics make the conservation strategy for the Iberian lynx diametrically opposed to that of other large carnivores, such as the Eurasian lynx or the wolf, that tend to expand their distribution limits in many European countries. Therefore, the main goal of the present Action Plan is achieving long-term viability for the few existing populations of the Iberian lynx. The Plan offers a discussion of conservation problems and contains guidelines to solve them, but it is not a management plan itself.

The speed at which the Iberian lynx heads for extinction is so fast that a drastic intervention of the competent Environmental Administrations is needed in many fields to fulfill the mandate of conservation laws. Measures have to be taken to preserve and recover a landscape that mimics the Mediterranean ecosystem resulting from millennia of man-forest interaction, which presumably has benefited rabbits, a crucial resource for lynx survival. When extensive habitat recovery is difficult or impossible between populations, linear corridors are needed to favour interpopulation dispersal. The destructive ability of modern human activities and developments on the sensitive natural areas of southern Iberia must be limited. Economic support should be provided to land uses favouring the recovery of rabbit populations. Lynx deaths due to direct or indirect human actions must stop immediately, and levels of natural mortality should be reduced by improving habitat quality (i.e. survival) in lynx areas. Although it is believed that in situ measures should prevail among conservation efforts, some knowledge is needed about ex situ initiatives, including an experimental captive breeding program, and other techniques aimed at lynx reintroduction or restocking which could be needed in the next future. Many practical questions remain unanswered because of incomplete information on ecological and behavioural aspects of the lynx biology. Therefore, research programs should cover current gaps in our knowledge. Special attention must be paid to improving methods for monitoring lynx presence and abundance, which allow assessment of the efficiency of conservation measures. In practice, most of the actions listed above generate some conflicts with ongoing activities and, therefore, need a strong political and legal support. In particular, many areas require some kind of legal protection.

The conservation of the Iberian lynx requires the participation of a number of collectives, and putting the measures proposed in this Plan into practice depends, in the end, on individual decisions and on the personal commitment of many people with the philosophy of this document. In this regard, some work can be done through economic incentives, but the stress should be on clear information and education. The Iberian lynx only lives in two countries, and co-operation between them is clearly required to preserve international populations, justifying and giving meaning to the Pan-European framework of the Large Carnivore Initiative. A similar co-ordination is needed between regions in Spain, that hold the responsibility of lynx conservation, and between branches of the same administration.

1. Introduction

Nowadays the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is the most threatened carnivore species in Europe and one of the most endangered mammal species in the world. These attributes have quickly emerged in recent times after gaining a more precise knowledge on the species taxonomy, status, and distribution.

Although lynx living in Iberia were first described as a distinct species as early as in the first quarter of the XIXth century, a lasting controversy has taken place since some influential taxonomists regarded them just as the small-sized, southwestern subspecies of the Eurasian lynx. Besides, some of the authors that defended the Iberian lynx specific identity included under the same species most (or all) of the spotted lynx populations living in southeastern Europe and the Caucasus. During the second half of the XXth century accumulated paleontological and morphological evidence strongly suggested that the Iberian lynx and the Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) were two different species. A few years ago this hypothesis received support from molecular analyses, that established an earlier evolutive divergence between the Eurasian and the Iberian lynx than between the Eurasian and the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). In consequence, only recently the Iberian lynx taxonomic position as an independent species has been widely accepted. Similarly, until the early 1990’s details on Iberian lynx distribution, numbers, and population trends were either very roughly estimated or entirely unknown.

Undoubtedly as a result of past uncertainties, the conservation of the Iberian lynx has not been paid the proper attention from both national and international conservation agencies. However, today it is acknowledged that Lynx pardinus has an endemic distribution limited to the Iberian Peninsula. Therefore the Iberian lynx and the European mink (Mustela lutreola) are the only endemic carnivore species in Europe. It is also a fact that the Iberian lynx range has contracted at an alarming speed during at least the last 150 years, and that overall population size has decreased even faster to reach the current estimated numbers, well below one thousand individuals. Such information has generated serious worries among conservationists all over the world, but obviously the concern is highest in the EU countries, particularly Spain and Portugal. At the political level, the competent European authorities can not demand the preservation of the biodiversity in the less developed countries of the world allowing at the same time that the first extinction of a felid species in many centuries will be a European endemic.

2. Background information

    1. Limitations of the available information

The Iberian lynx is a poorly known species. Little effort has been devoted to understand its biology, ecology and behaviour, perhaps due to the species scarcity and limited distribution. Until 1980 the only published information on the Iberian lynx primarily came from the study of museum specimens, as well as the compilation of observations among people living in rural areas. This sometimes heterogeneous (from a scientific standpoint) approach has been partly corrected during the last two decades. However, most modern studies have been carried out on the small lynx population living in the Doñana National Park and surroundings, a region claimed to be atypical in terms of habitat features and level of protection compared with the prevailing conditions across most of the species’ range. Therefore, one must bear in mind that

the Iberian Lynx Action Plan will be necessarily based on partial and insufficient knowledge, mostly obtained from a single population during a relatively short period. Nevertheless, following the Biodiversity Convention recommendations, the lack of information should not be used as an excuse for conservation passiveness.

    1. Description of the species

The Iberian lynx has the regular appearance of the other members of the genus Lynx. Its body size compares to that of the American species, i.e. the Canada lynx and the bobcat (Lynx rufus), but it is about half the size of the Eurasian lynx. The species shows a relatively small head, long legs, and a very short tail with black tip. Its face is short and flat, flanked by a characteristic ‘beard’, especially conspicuous in the adults, and its triangular ears end in black tufts. Feet are broad, and toes hide retractile claws. The dominant background colour of the Iberian lynx coat is tawny, mottled with dark spots very variable in size, shape, and colour intensity. Efforts have been made to categorise this variability into four main pelt patterns, according to the configuration, size, and sharpness of the spots. Adult males weigh between 11 and 15 kg (mean 12.8), and adult females between 8 and 10 kg (mean 9.3). One-year-old lynx weigh about 7 kg regardless sex. Some circumstantial evidence might indicate variation in body size between different lynx populations (for instance, breeding females weighing 7 kg have been reported in Montes de Toledo).

    1. Distribution and population numbers
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