May 22, 2024

Species protection: the return of the Iberian lynx

Fortunately today, the project is almost finished: after loading the truck, the team sets out for Herdade da Contenda. Once there, Delgado and the others carefully open one room at a time, lift out the bumbling rabbits, and place them in an enclosure, where they disappear into the tall grass. If all goes well with these twelve specimens and the new arrivals planned for the coming months, terms for Contenda’s Lynx release will finally be in place, one would hope.

Black vultures also benefit from the reintroduction of lynx

The larger Black Eagle enclosure is Delagado’s next destination. With a wingspan of almost three metres, the majestic animals are among the largest birds of prey in the world. In recent decades, their populations have suffered massive losses, due in part to ingestion of heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, as well as veterinary antibiotics and other harmful substances associated with feeding on carrion. By 1980, not a single breeding pair was known to exist in Portugal and the birds were considered extinct in the country.

In Kontenda, Rocha and his predecessors reintroduced scavengers. Like the lynx, they also have a fondness for rabbit meat, but only carcass meat and not live specimens. Delgado guides the truck along the property’s narrow, winding lanes to the outfield fence, which sits on a hill in the shade of oak and pine trees. He stops the car, grabs a bag from the truck, and quickly changes. This procedure is mandatory for anyone who wants to go behind a chain link fence. This is to prevent the spread of tuberculosis in poultry.

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Speaking of which, another 2002 EU sanitary regulation aimed at curbing bovine spongiform encephalopathy (otherwise known as mad cow disease) is actually one of the reasons the scavenger is struggling to survive: Regulations require farmers to: Remove carcasses – a food source Key to different types of vultures – from their fields.

In order to support the black vultures at Herdade da Contenda, staff leave carrion at a feeding station in the enclosure. The birds also use the nesting platforms that LPN biologists and government biologists have built here in Contenda and in the region. Now the black eagle is once again soaring over the Portuguese sky, in part because the lynx has returned. Because, building on the cats’ successful reintroduction and the relationships forged with landowners and hunting societies, LPN and government biologists have been able to secure additional funding from the European Commission to help other species that depend on the same landscape, including the black vulture.

“If we can protect the lynx, we can secure a habitat it shares with many other species.”Rita Martins, a biologist with a Portuguese conservation organisation

In 2019, the Portuguese government introduced a protection plan for this bird and other vulture species. Among other things, the funds are intended to secure natural habitats and build new feeding stations and artificial nests. “If we are successful in protecting the lynx, we can secure a habitat that it shares with many other species — including endangered species, some less attractive and lesser-known species that are difficult to attract attention and to obtain funding,” says Martins.

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Without the cooperation of the landowners, you think, these conservation successes would never have been possible. It is therefore important to create these communities of practice with local communities, landowners and other stakeholders in the area. This is the only way to ensure long-term restoration of ecosystems and the creation of a more sustainable landscape.

The first released lynx’s offspring migrated south

In the secluded café in the small village of São João de Caldereros, near the first lynx shooting station, the waitress welcomes biologist Sarmiento as an old friend. He and his guests are seated on the balcony and allowed to order their lunch, although there is a sign stating that only drinks are served here. But Sarmiento has been a regular guest since 2014 – since he first visited the Herdade das Romeiras hunting ground to prepare it for the release of jacarandá and katmandú.

On a hill from the village church car park is a stone viewing platform with information boards about the reintroduction of the Lynx Romeiras launch area. Nowadays, the descendants of lynxes are found far from this area. The daughter of the jacaranda was probably one of the first lynxes to migrate south from here in the Alentejo to the Algarve region, a colony of one of the best remaining hares in the region. This eventually led to the release of Sidra and Salau in May 2022 expanding the population’s gene pool.