Guesthouse Bed & Breakfast in the Algarve - Portugal Holidays




Feline predator at risk of extinction

When we think of rare and exotic big cats, our minds usually wander to the tangles of the Amazonian rainforest, the far-off jungles of Africa, or the stunning mountain peaks of the Asian sub-continent. In fact, the world’s most endangered wild cat lives in western Europe.

The Iberian Lynx (Lynx Pardina), sometimes called Europe’s tiger, inhabits the open forests and aromatic scrubland of south-western Spain and Portugal. He lives in Europe’s southern peninsula and nowhere else!

The largest lynx population in Portugal lives in the most crowded holiday destination…the Algarve!

The southern strip of Portugal was the area with the greatest concentration, occupying an area of about 650 square kilometres between the Monchique, Caldeirão and Espinhaço de Cão mountain ranges.

The Lynx Pardinus is today the most endangered of the world’s cat species.Now, there is a move to re-introduce them in Portugal by breeding them in captivity, from animals brought from Spain.

Only after scientists realised that the population of Iberian lynxes has dramatically declined in numbers, this fascinating animal has been studied in detail.

Descended from an African wild cat that roamed the earth up to 35 million years ago, the Iberian Lynx may be the oldest modern big cat of them all and it’s one of over 30 members of the wild cat family including tigers, lions, cheetahs and leopards.

By appearence, the Iberian lynks looks like a huge domestic cat. The Iberian Lynx can grow to one metre in length and to a height of 50 cm, and weigh over 15 kg. Its distinguishing features are its yellow-brown pelt with black markings, a short tail with a black tip, pointed ears with tufts of fur at the tip, like paint brushes, and big black and white ruffs around their faces.

It lives on average for 10 years- the oldest known animal in the wild died befire its 14 th birthday.

The Iberian lynx like other members of the cat family, purrs when contented, growls when threatened and yowls when it’s looking for mates.

It is a solitary animal that comes alive when it’s dark, preferring to sleep through the heat of the day and uses its exceptional powers of night vision to hunt until sunrise.

Its favourite food is the wild rabbit, which is the most of its diet.

They are very impressive hunters, but they are not long distance runners so they need to attack at the very right moment!

A single rabbit is not enough for a lynx; a female with a young litter may need as many as three rabbits per day, and that is one reason why they are solitary creatures: rabbits are too small to share.

They occasionally eat mice, hares and deer and ducks or fishes; unlike may cats, lynxes are not afraid of water and you can see them jump into a river.

In Portugal, the decline of this species started in the 1930s and 1940s, when wheat production reduced its habitat.

Since 1950s the fall in the population of the wild rabbit (today, rabbits number are just five per cent of formers levels)has made the Iberian Lynx struggling more and more for surviving. Plus, the plantation of eucaliptus has increased the numbers and intensity of forest fires in the Algarve, where summers are hot, dry and long. Thus, despite Portuguese and European directives which are supposed to protect this species and its habitat!

In 1988, a survey showed there were just 1,200 animals left, but now, there might be less than 300 Iberian lynxes still living in the peninsula.

Large areas of natural vegetation, which have been taken thousands of years to evolve, have been obliterated.In their place have come industrial-scale plantation for logging and intensive agriculture, but the cost to wildlife species like the lynx is absolutely unsustainable.

Many woodlands have been deliberately burnt to make way for urban development or new highways. Large plantations of pine and eucalyptus now occupy big areas of Portugal in place of woodlands and bushes and that has brought to an environmental disaster: these alien tree made the soli crumble away and the water sources have dried up.

Demand from the paper industry for fast-growing, quick-profitable wood pulp is increasing and that is something to blame when thinking that we are living in the most digitalized era ever!

Also, the advent of plastic wine stoppers is putting into trouble the thousands of people who depend directly on the cork forests.


In the last 10 years, over two million acres of woodland have been burnt in Portugal, but they are still continuing to make plantations. Plus, the decline of traditional farmers, so unprofitable compared to large-scale productions, make the rural exodus become a vicious circle: the land is abandoned, local resources lose value and are commonly replaced by plantation.

For the lynx, the abandonment of rural farms becomes a real issue: the new re-created environment the linxes have to deal with, is extremely hostile and dangerous (scarcity of food is first of all).

On the other side, it is true that the hills inhabited by the Iberian lynx are sources of wild, perennial foods and medicinal plants, some of whose properties should be discovered; for instance, the berries of strawberry trees or the cork tree used to provide the wine’s industry withwine bottle corks.

The traditional sustainable use of natural landscapes produces a range of high quality food- such as honey, olive oil, wild mushrooms – that bring an important income for local people.

Without urgent action, the Iberian lynx that is now in a ‘pre-exctinction’ phase, will most likely die out in just few years.

But we do believe that the end for the Iberian lynx is not inevitable.

Conservation programmes have been drawn up by agencies of the Portuguese and Spanish Governments.

Research and monitoring programmes are under way in both countries like ‘Herdade das Santinhas’,center of captive reproduction of the Iberian lynx with its ‘Odelouca project’.

The ‘Herdade das Santinhas’ is situated in the ‘Barragem do Arade’, an area covering 156 hectares in the Silves Council, which is included in the ‘EU’s Natura 2000’ network of protected wildlife areas.

The ‘Odelouca Project’ is a experimental program that aims to reintroduce lynxes bred in captivity in their native environment, the Bonelli eagle and all the precious species that originally inhabited the Algarve.

If you are interested in visiting the Iberian Lynx route, don’t miss to join the walking tour of 4.5 hours run by Algarve Nature & Culture in Vale Fuzeiros at this link:

If you want to help us in preserving this incredible feline, please join us. Much more is to be done to avoid future extinction crises!


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