Iberian Lynx

Lynx pardinus

Quick Bio for Iberian Lynx:

Status: Critically Endangered
have from 2-4 cubs, usually 3
Weight: 11-15 kg
Diet: Carnivore

Physical description of Iberian lynx

Quite like their cousins, the Eurasian lynx, the Iberian lynx has tufted ears and spotted fur. The spots range from small, blending in with the coat, to large and distinctive. Long legs and short tails are a distinctive feature of the lynx lineage. The Iberian lynx is significantly smaller than the Eurasian lynx, closer to the Canadian lynx in size. The “Beard” is quite distinctive compared to other lynx species.

Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus),is  the smallest of the Lynx family, and endemic to the Iberian Peninsula. This image highlights its distinctive 'beard' and tufted ears.
Licensed from Shutterstock
Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus),is the smallest of the Lynx family, and endemic to the Iberian Peninsula. This image highlights its distinctive ‘beard’ and tufted ears.

Distribution and habitat of Iberian lynx

Iberian lynx are the only cat endemic to Europe. The Eurasian lynx and European wildcats both stray outside the borders. Lions and tigers used to roam into European lands but haven’t done so for a very long time.

Isolated from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenean mountains, they once lived across the complete expanse of the Iberian peninsula. Now, however, they are one of the most endangered mammal species that still survive. From the 1960s onwards, their decline was rapid as Spain’s economy developed.

Since the decline was halted in the 1990s, their numbers have slowly been recovering and now number about 1400 individuals (in early 2024). All surviving Iberian lynx probably live in Spain, as none has been recorded in Portugal since 1992.

Donaña National Park near Seville has one of the highest concentrations of lynx on the peninsula. The Sierra de Andújar, also in the south, is another stronghold.

Like a lot of cats, the Iberian lynx is capable of flourishing in terrain that is quite variable. The remaining populations are split between the Mountains of the Sierra Morena, Sierra de Andújar, and the Donaña National Park, which is basically sea level.

The Mediterranean scrub and farmland are suitable habitats, as are the marshes of Donaña, the delta area of the Guadalquivir River. The open areas provide good hunting grounds for small mammals, including their preferred prey, rabbits.

One of the issues facing the Iberian lynx is the lack of habitat and, more importantly, transit corridors between the patches of habitat that do exist. Like most cats, they are solitary and need quite a large area.

Given the lack of travel options, lynx are therefore prevented from exploring, or in other words, forced to live in more dense populations. This, in turn, has a significant effect on genetic exchange.

Lynx pardinus (Iberian Lynx) nicely blend in with the color of the rocks that cover their range.
Licensed from Shutterstock
Lynx pardinus (Iberian Lynx) nicely blend in with the color of the rocks that cover their range.

Iberian Lynx behaviour

Iberian lynx are carnivores. They are somewhat nocturnal but are often active at dusk and dawn, as are their prey.

Adults are generally solitary, living in independent territories. However, the male’s territory often overlaps with that of a female or multiple females. Within these territories, they tend to stick to their separate areas. Territorial conflict is only seen between members of the same sex.

While these territories would once have been spread out across the Iberian Peninsula, the Iberian lynx lives today in two main populations and a few other isolated smaller populations. Like most cats, it is the male that travels furthest from its place of birth.

Considering the isolated population structure and limited suitable habitat, this can be a dangerous time for young, year-old lynx. While territorial disputes and lack of food because of the poor habitat are threats, the most significant threats are anthropological until they get a territory established.

Interestingly, the Iberian lynx is relatively silent. While a lot of cats use vocalizations for communication, the Iberian lynx are generally quiet apart from those within the family group of a mother and her cubs.

What do Iberian lynx eat?

Iberian lynx are quick and efficient killers. Unlike larger cats who use a smothering bite to the neck, the lynx uses a strong, single bite to the head of smaller prey (sometimes the neck) that pretty much kills instantly. Their favorite prey is rabbits. The European rabbit is the bulk of their menu. One rabbit a day is about enough to survive, but females often need a lot more when they have young to feed.

They also prey on the European hare and other small rodents depending on what is available and, if necessary, will go for young deer like their larger cousin, the Eurasian lynx.

Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) after a successful hunt with a rabbit to feed on.
Licensed from Shutterstock
Spain wildlife (Iberian lynx) after a successful hunt with a rabbit to feed on.

Mating and Parental care of Iberian lynx

Like most cats, males will have a territory that overlaps that of multiple females. However, in the well-protected area of the Donaña NP, the expansion possibilities for young males don’t exist due to the limited area suitable for lynxes.

Because of this, the population density is much higher, and males are in higher competition with one another. Quite often, males are forced out of the protected areas and have to travel significant distances to find suitable territories. Not all young males are successful in this endeavor.

Female lynx give birth in dens to very vulnerable kittens. The cubs might need to be moved to new dens for their protection when disturbed. After two months, the cubs are quite active and pretty decent at hunting leaves and their mother’s tail. From this time on, they start to feed on the mother’s kills and leave the den to practice hunting, but it takes a long time to become proficient.

By eight months, they still spend quite a lot of time with the mother but also hunt independently. When they reach maturity, they leave to establish their own range, but as discussed, this is not easy in areas where there is a lack of connection between suitable habitats.

Who preys on Iberian lynx

Apart from the wolf, the Iberian lynx is the largest predator in its ecosystem. As such, it has no predators other than humans.

How long do Iberian lynx live?

Lynx can live to 13 years, but a lot die young. Some of the reasons are traffic and illegal hunting. It is, unfortunately, the young that often die in these circumstances as they are trying to establish a territory in unsuitable areas.

Female Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) named Datura standing over a rock watching the valley below, Sierra Morena, Andujar, Andalucia, Spain.
Licensed from Shutterstock
Female Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) named Datura standing over a rock watching the valley below, Sierra Morena, Andujar, Andalucia, Spain.

Iberian lynx and their ecosystem

Due to their dependence on rabbits as their primary source of prey, the Iberian lynx is a very vulnerable species. The balance of the lynx population is very much linked to the balance of the ecosystem providing a ‘correct’ population of rabbits. Their singularity in prey preferences will certainly help keep the population of their prey in check. Iberian lynx might also keep other predators in check by actively killing competitors to increase the rabbits available for their personal consumption.

Impact of Iberian lynx on the human economy

Iberian lynx have certainly been persecuted by humans in the past. They were once hunted for their fur. More importantly, though, they were hunted under government orders to increase the opportunities for the small-game industry. This damage to the populations is what led to the lynx’s near extinction.

Being smaller than the more common Eurasian lynx, the Iberian lynx is not a danger to agriculture or humans. Livestock is not targeted, and they are too small to threaten humans.

The one threat they could pose is economic. For example, if agricultural lands or forestry lands were forced to have more stringent protections for lynx, it might render them less valuable. It is generally accepted now that more biodiversity will improve such farmland or forestry.

The Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) used to be one of the most difficult-to-find cats. Due to a recovery program, the number of Iberian lynx is now almost three times what it was 20 years ago.
CC License, image by Animal Record
The Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) used to be one of the most difficult-to-find cats. Due to a recovery program, the number of Iberian lynx is now almost three times what it was 20 years ago.

Conservation status and human impact on Iberian lynx

The Iberian lynx is extremely endangered. While their numbers have increased since the 1990s, a fragmented population of less than 1500 is very easily disrupted. Most of the damage was inflicted during the industrialization of Spain and the development and growth of the population during the 20th Century.

While decreasing prey, traffic accidents and hunting have been factors, habitat destruction is the most damaging to their long-term survival. This fragmentation of habitat is one of the biggest killers of young lynx. As males disperse, they, by necessity, go through areas that are unsuitable habitats for them. Crossing roads is a major killer of young lynx, which prevents them from forming stable territories of their own.

The population is, as of 2024, increasing almost exponentially due to the great conservation efforts of the Andalucians. If only it were this easy to protect and recover all species.

Iberian Lynx in French, German, Spanish ...

Latin Name
Lynx pardinus
Alternative Names
Spanish Lynx, Pardel Lynx
French Names
Lynx Pardelle, Lynx D'espagne
German Names
Pardelluchs, Iberisher Luchs
Spanish Names
Lince Ibérico
Swahili Names
Linksi Wa Hispania

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