The population of wild lynxes is plummeting, official data show, and budget cutbacks are the reason, claims a noted biologist who has just quit the Lynx programme after 12 years.
José María Gil-Sánchez quit the Lynx programme in December and says it’s doomed, due to budget cutbacks and political infighting. He claims to have been forced out of the programme due to a difference of opinion with his political bosses.
Andalucia has for many years run a very successful reintroduction programme for these wildcats, a model that Spain, and Europe, has pointed to with pride.
It’s been a combination of breed-to-release and protecting the few that are left.
But January figures show that the wild population of Lynxes has dropped by 66% in the last two years. Officially there is no reason as to why, but José knows – cutbacks means less protection, and no food supplements throughout the winter.
There are two areas in Andalucia where lynxes still live: Andújar-Cardeña and Doñana-Aljarafe (between Huelva and Seville).
Andújar-Cardeña has dropped from 202 two years ago to 169 live wild cats now.
Doñana-Aljarafe has dropped from 88 to 85, also over the last two years, despite several bred-to-be-released cats being released over that time frame.
Just as worrying is a very high mortality rate amongst the newborns, with cats abandoning their young or seeing them die.
The problem, explains José, is as simple as the food supplement programme being abandoned due to cutbacks.
Before, biologists left out food for the cats during the lean months, meaning they could continue to feed their young and not have to roam in search of food (habitat destruction leaving them without their main food sources). A virus in the wild rabbit population during 2013 meant they were scarce, which also caused cats to starve as they just couldn’t find enough food.
But with the cancellation of this programme, the cats are forced to roam far afield for their food, leaving them exposed to the dangers of modern life: traffic, poison, hunters and pesticides.
José blames the director of the programme, Miguel Ángel Simón, for the decision, and says that if we don’t do something now, we can forget about the Lynx ever coming back, as there just won’t be enough genetic variation in the few we have left to ensure a viable future. They’ll just inbreed amongst themselves until nothing is left.
He also blames Miguel for forcing him out after he went public with his complaints in a number of science magazines last year. Well – it’s the Junta, you don’t go up against them and survive.