The Iberian Lynx Struggles for Survival

Threatened wildcats need renewed rabbit population to avoid extinction, report states.

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In an effort to spare the Iberian lynx from extinction, conservation groups in December reported that wild rabbit populations in Spain and Portugal need to be restored through greater conservation efforts and called for reclassifying rabbits on an endangered-species list.

The lynx, which primarily preys on rabbits, now totals less than 100 adults. Other natural predators such as the Iberian Imperial Eagle are also endangered due to the rapid decline in rabbits, which resulted from disease, over-hunting and loss of habitat, the report states.

Whearas the rabbit is seen as a pest in countries where it has been introduced, it is the keystone of the Mediterranean ecosystem in Spain and Portugal, says Dan Ward, a conservation consultant for SOS Lynx and author of the study.

The report advocates more coordinated and sustainable conservation efforts for rabbits in addition to changing their status under the IUCN Red List, where their current classification is Least Concern. But Ward also acknowledged that persistent diseases and conflict with agriculture may prevent the rabbit population from returning to its historical level. Current estimates show rabbits numbers at 5 percent of the population number 50 years ago.

Three Iberian lynx cubs were born in captivity for the first time at a Spanish national park in March.

Posted: Dec. 29, 2005, 5a.m. EST

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