Former and current Iberian lynx distribution

 

 

Given that the Iberian lynx is an endemic species of the Iberian Peninsula, its distribution range has never extended much of this. Specific differentiation with respect to the Eurasian lynx took place during the longer Pleistocene glaciations (due to prolonged isolation in southwestern Spain) and the end of this geological epoch (about 12,000 years ago) when the Iberian lynx has the widest known distribution range, from the Peninsula to central Europe via southern France. During the historical period there are no evidences of the species outside of the Iberian Peninsula. Prior to the nineteenth century, the Iberian lynx was distributed throughout the whole peninsula, although the data are insufficient to enable population trends. However, there is evidence of lynx presence in parts of northern Spain that suggest local extinctions since the seventeenth century. The regression in the range of distribution of species is well documented from the mid-nineteenth century, when it was considered a common species over almost the entire peninsula, according to Graells. By the 80’s of that century, Brehm estimated that between 200 and 300 lynx pelts from Central Spain came annually to Madrid for use in fur trade. This use was the main lynx’ cause of mortality for decades, extending well into the Twentieth Century.

 

         

Iberian lynx from Sierra Nevada, 1870. Particular collection. Foto: elpais.com   Iberian lynx from El Escorial (Madrid), 1875. Particular collection. Foto: Proyecto LIFE
 

 

In the 10’s of the twentieth century, Cabrera considered that the Iberian lynx was virtually extinct in the north and east of the Iberian Peninsula, whereas it was still abundant in the center and southwest. However, around 500 lynx pelts per year were sold until 1937 in the Spanish fur market. In 1953, a decree was published, which requires the creation of the Provincial Boards for the Extinction of Vermins, which documented 152 Iberian lynx deaths in Spain between 1954 and 1961. In this period, only lynx deaths are recorded in 6 provinces in western and southern Spain, probably indicating that in some other provinces the lynx must be extremely low even at that time. Even in case that trapping effort was not equal across the Spanish geography, the results suggest that the most abundant population, as well as the hardest hit by the boards, was the one living in Montes de Toledo. These boards probably contributed to the extinction of many small populations in Spain.

 

Iberian lynxes killed by the Provincial Boards for the Extinction of vermins

Province
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959
1960
1961
Total
Cáceres
-
-
-
-
1
-
-
-
1
Ciudad Real
-
-
-
1
1
1
1
1
5
Córdoba
-
2
5
1
10
1
-
-
19
Granada
-
-
-
-
1
1
-
-
2
Salamanca
11
1
1
1
1
3
-
-
18
Toledo
-
4
13
26
19
13
20
12
107
Total
11
7
19
29
33
19
21
13
152


 

Adult male Iberian lynx displaying a big-spots pelage pattern, 1960. This individual was captured in Sierra de Hornachuelos (Córodba) in 1955 and moved to the St. Vincennes zoo (Paris). The zoo tryied to buy a female to begin the captive breeding, but the trials of capture were unsuccessful.

 

 

 

In 1963, Valverde launches the first alarm once he estimated that the distribution of the Iberian lynx was restricted to 5 cores in southwestern Spain (Sierra de Gata, Montes de Toledo, northwest of Badajoz, Sierra Morena and Doñana area) and some isolated small core in the Pyrenees and the Iberian Mountains, where he doubt about their existence at that time. The author based his work on data from specimens killed during the 25 years prior to publication. Given the evidence that the Iberian lynx was endangered, it is legally protected in 1966. During the 80's, Rodríguez and Delibes performed a retrospective estimate of the Iberian lynx distribution for 1960 based on surveys, estimating a range of much more extensive distribution estimated by Valverde. The difference in methodology may have led the first author to underestimate the actual range and the latter overestimated it, so the actual range for this time is likely to be intermediate between the results of both studies.
  
 

 

 
                      
 
                            

 

Iberian lynx distribution in Spain in the 60's according to Valverde (left) and Rodríguez & Delibes (right). The first author used data from individuals killed since the 40's, whereas the second ones data from retrospective surveys practiced in the 80's. The actual situation must be an intermediate between both scenarios.

 

 

During the 70's of the Twentieth Century, many authors continue to prospect for the Iberian lynx in Spain and Portugal, getting different results depending on the methodology (search for indirect evidence, search for direct evidence and quotes). Based on all these studies and our own data, Delibes estimated the species distribution range in 1979. He found that the Iberian lynx was limited to 6 main nuclei (Gata-Malcata-Bejar mountains, Montes de Toledo-Sierra de Guadalupe, Eastern Sierra Morena, western Sierra Morena, southern Portugal and Coto de Doñana) and small occurrence areas adjacent to them.

Iberian lynx distribution in 1979 stimated by Delibes based on both own data and studies by other authors.

 

As all these works put in show, the major population nucleus in Spain during the 60’s and 70’s are the western foothills of Sistema Central, Montes de Toledo, Eastern Sierra Morena and Doñana. Although the lynx was probably present in other areas, the small population size threatened their survival. The Iberian lynx seems extinct in the Sierra de San Pedro, Sistema Ibérico  and most of the Sistema Central during those two decades. During the filming of “The Man and the Earth”, in the mid 70's, Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente had great difficulty finding a site in Spain where filming lynxes. Finally, after a fruitless search for Extremadura, he got four individuals from Montes de Toledo, which were used in the documentary.

 

        

Female Iberian lynx killed in a fox hunting in Grandola (Portugal), in 1972. Photo: LuPan59

    

Male Iberian lynx captured hurt in Villafranca (Córdoba) in 1975 and moved to the Córdoba zoo. Photo: Pepe Barasona.

 

Between 1978 and 1988 at least 356 Iberian lynx deaths were recorded in Spain, most of which were caused by poaching. Since the late 80's the population of Montes de Toledo, who had always been the most abundant of the Iberian Peninsula, had been subjected to such pressures that it was in a pre-extinction scenario. In the early 90’s, scientists from the Doñana Biological Station tried to capture some individuals for a research project in one of the Montes de Toledo areas where higher density was supposed to occur, but they obtained negative results. Finally, the study had to be done in the Sierra de Andujar. In 1990, Rodríguez and Delibes published the results of an estimation of the Iberian lynx population in Spain during the 80's that shows that the regression of the species continued during that decade. This work wasmainly based on the results of surveys practiced to key groups, and indicated that the Iberian lynx in Spain was distributed in 48 small and unconnected populations, grouped in 9 isolated cores (Western Sistema Central, Gredos, High Alberche, Sierra de San Pedro, Montes de Toledo-Villuercas-Monfragüe, Cordilleras Subbéticas, Eastern Sierra Morena, Central Sierra Morena, Western Sierra Morena and Doñana). It is estimated that about 1200 individuals survived on about 11,000 km2, of which only 1800 km2 of high density were found. The methodology used in this work, without a good assessment of the quality of citations, can lead to overestimate the distribution of the species. This could justify the consideration of Iberian lynx occurrence in areas where the species was previously considered extinct. However, data showed in this study were unflattering anyway, because almost all the nuclei described were small and had low density except eastern Sierra Morena. In 1996, Castro and Palma will present a work based on the same methodology in Portugal and concluded that the Iberian lynx was present only in the mountains of Malcata and the Algarve. The latest secure data of lynx occurrence in western Sistema Central is a specimen captured for research in the Sierra de Malcata in 1992. This issue is also the last data safe lynx presence in Portugal until the arrival of the exemplary "Caribú" from Huelva in 2009.

 

   

 

 
                     
 
                            
Iberian lynx distribution estimation based on surveys by Rodríguez & Delibes (Spain) in 1990 and Castro & Palma (Portugal) in 1996. Iberian lynx distribution in Spain in 2004 based on both photo-trapping and molecular analysis of faeces, according to Guzmán et al. At this time the species has already been extirpated from Portugal, according to Sarmento.

 

 

 

Methodological differences between the different studies make the results not always comparable. This is because so far all work being done are estimates based on indirect evidences (search for tracks and scats, which today we know that sometimes are difficult to assign to a species without genetic analysis), surveys (the accuracy quotations and their meaning is not homogeneous), animal data received (may underestimate the population, etc.). In the late 90's are brought on line two techniques to monitor bobcat populations more sensitive than those that existed before: the photo-trapping and genetic analysis of feces. The combination of these two techniques to detect any population of Iberian lynx, for it is low density. So in 2004, Guzman et al. published the results of a survey based on a combination of these two techniques performed in Spain in the period 2000-2003, resulting only in eastern Sierra Morena and Doñana lynx remain stably. (about 160 copies distributed in 500 km2).

 

Once demonstrated, by Guzman et al., the stage of pre-extinction of the Iberian lynx in the early twenty-first century, began to organize conservation action to prevent extinction. Thus in 2001 began a program of action which is continuous with a LIFE between 2002 and 2006 and another that is running between 2006 and 2011. The result of the actions to preserve these programs in 2010 have been counted more than 250 lynx in the wild, while it has reached the 71 in the captive breeding program.

 

 

   

 

  

Evolution of the distribution of the Iberian lynx population in Sierra Morena (left) and Doñana-Aljarafe (right) from 2004 (pink circles) to 2010 (open circles).

           

 

During the last decade, the Iberian lynx populations have been subjected to intensive monitoring, which has been shown to be a tool for evaluating the performances of conservation of the species taken by the Government of Andalusia, especially through projects financed LIFENAT 02 / E / And 06/E/0209 8609. The evolution of the population in these years of work has been clearly positive (see Iberian lynx census in 2010).

Evolution of the Iberian lynx population from 2002 to 2010 (LIFE project data)

If you have data about the former distribution range of the Iberian lynx send us an e-mail 

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