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Conservationists astounded after wild cat on brink of extinction makes resurgence decades later: 'Greatest recovery of a cat species ever achieved through conservation'

"Every year, we were more and more optimistic about the future."

"Every year, we were more and more optimistic about the future."

Photo Credit: iStock

In 2001, there were only 62 wild Iberian lynx remaining in Portugal and Spain. Now, in what has been deemed a shining example of major conservation success, there are over 2,000, according to a press release from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Much of this population growth is thanks to the sustained efforts of the LIFE LynxConnect Project, where conservationists took a multi-pronged approach to saving this species from the brink. 

Part of its approach, the Washington Post reported, was to focus on protecting populations of the European rabbit, a key prey animal for the Iberian lynx which had also been in decline due to habitat loss.

The conservationists also incentivized both hunters and farmers to avoid trapping and killing lynx through a mix of education and financial incentives. Finally, the organization also physically relocated several adult lynx to the territory in order to encourage higher breeding rates.

Their combined efforts have been vastly successful. Whereas previously, the species had been listed as "critically endangered," they are now classified as "vulnerable" by the IUCN.

Veterinarian Guillermo López Zamora, who is working on the project, told the Washington Post, "Every year, we were more and more optimistic about the future." He even wagered that, if efforts continued, "In 10 years, we could be speaking that the Iberian lynx is out of any threat."

Similar conservation successes have been achieved around the world in recent years, from the re-appearance of white-tailed eagles in Belgium to giant arapaima fish in Brazil, sei whales in Patagonia, and more. 

However, López emphasized that the species weren't completely out of danger. If hunting resurges or the European rabbit declines further, their numbers could easily fall again.

But for now, the group is focused on celebrating what the project's coordinator, Francisco Javier Salcedo Ortiz, said in a statement is the "greatest recovery of a cat species ever achieved through conservation."

For people looking to support similar conservation initiatives, there are several steps to take to work towards a more biodiverse world, whether it's composting at home, reducing marine debris by shopping at thrift stores, or voting for politicians with conservation-focused agendas.

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