The Iberian Lynx Ex situ Conservation Programme
Owing to the precarious situation of the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), in the wild, conservation measures need to be implemented effectively and efficiently, integrating efforts and working tools. Iberian lynx conservation could be conceived as a puzzle whose pieces should fit together adequately. One of such pieces involves ex situ conservation, which includes –among other activities– captive breeding, genetic and demographic management of the captive population, management of a Biological Resources Bank (BRB), preparing captive-born animals for release, as well as capacity building, education, and outreach efforts.
Current Iberian lynx conservation breeding efforts focus on producing physiologically and behaviourally sound captive-born individuals that are suitable for future reintroduction efforts. For this purpose, we use management and research techniques that rely on multidisciplinary input generated on the species´ life history, behaviour, nutrition, veterinary and health aspects, genetics, reproductive physiology, endocrinology and ecology. The programme stresses the importance of adapting our husbandry schemes based on research data to promote natural behaviours in captivity (hunting, territoriality, social interactions) and a stress-free environment that is conducive to natural reproduction. Some relevant research areas include: determining fecal hormone profiles for adult and subadult lynx, studying reproductive behaviour and cub development, determining reproductive health of male and female breeders, developing a non-invasive pregnancy test, establishing sound bio-security and biomedical protocols, establishing reference values for blood parameters, genotyping all founders and making paring recommendations based on genetic distance between breeders. Within this scheme, one of our goals is to minimize the use of potentially invasive methods while simultaneously enhancing the trust between the animals and their keepers to assist in securing information on animal weight and gestational status.
The Iberian Lynx Ex situ Conservation Programme is integrated within the National Strategy for the Conservation of the Iberian Lynx, officially endorsed by the Spanish National Commission for the Protection of Nature. National, regional and international institutions collaborate with the Programme, which is currently implemented through a “multilateral commission” that includes the central governments of Spain and Portugal, together with the autonomous governments of Andalusia, Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. Portugal, where no Iberian lynx populations were detected during the last 2002–2003 census, has developed its own ex situ conservation action plan in coordination with the Spanish programme and it is presently manages a captive breeding facility in Silves, Portugal, and works on improving habitat for future re-establishment of lynx populations.
The route map of the Ex situ Programme is the Iberian Lynx Captive Breeding Action Plan, an adaptive management document reviewed annually by an advisory captive breeding committee. The main Ex situ Programme goals are twofold: (1) To maintain a genetically and demographically managed captive population that serves as a “safety net” for the species and (2) To help establish new Iberian lynx free-ranging populations through re-introduction programmes. To accomplish these goals, the Iberian Lynx Conservation Breeding Programme encompasses management and applied research strategies in the following six areas.