Iberian Lynx Nears Extinction as EU-Backed Work Wrecks Habitat

By Eduardo Goncalves and Geoffrey Lean | The Independent (London, England), June 16, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Iberian Lynx Nears Extinction as EU-Backed Work Wrecks Habitat


Eduardo Goncalves and Geoffrey Lean, The Independent (London, England)


Massive EU subsidies are helping to cause the extinction of the Iberian Lynx, which would be the first big cat to vanish since the sabre-tooth tiger, top scientists said last week.

They say that nearly 50 new dam and roads planned or under construction in Spain and Portugal - many partly funded by the EU - are destroying the last strongholds of the lynx.

Last weekend Portugal officially declared the lynx - a close relative of the American bobcat - "virtually extinct" in the country, and experts say none of the remaining populations, in Spain, are now ecologically viable.

Originally the cat (lynx pardinus) ranged across the north coast of the Mediterranean, as far east as the Balkans. But after the last one died in France in the 1950s, it has been restricted to the Iberian peninsula, and its numbers have been in freefall.

In the early 1980s, there were still some 48 breeding populations of the mammal, but now there are thought to be just two or three, mainly in the mountains of the eastern Sierra Morena in northern Andalucia and in the Donana National Park south of Seville. Over the past decade the total population has plummeted from 1,200 to 200.

"Between 1960 and 1980, there was an 80 per cent fall in its numbers," says Dr Miguel Delibes of Spain's Estacion Biologica de Donana, one of the world's leading authorities on the species. "Between 1980 and 2000, there was another 80 per cent fall."

And Peter Jackson, the leading cat expert for IUCN - the World Conservation Union - adds: "As far as I am aware, this would be the first known extinction of a big cat since the sabre-tooth tiger. It is a disgrace that Europe is allowing a species like this to disappear while urging Third World countries to save their wildlife."

Professor Astrid Vargas, who resigned earlier this year as co- ordinator of a Spanish government lynx rescue programme, said that since Spain and Portugal joined the EU, "there have been lots of new roads, railway lines and dams crossing the lynx's habitats. The lynx is going extinct and people have been sitting on their backsides".

And Guy Beaufoy, Director of Spain's Institute of Sustainable Rural Development adds: "In the last few years, projects co-funded by the EU have degraded lynx habitats.

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