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Conservation of the Iberian Lynx in Montes de Toledo-Guadalmena (Lince Toledo)
Date du début: 1 nov. 2002, Date de fin: 31 oct. 2006 PROJET  TERMINÉ 

Background The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is the most threatened carnivorous mammal in Europe, according to the IUCN. A medium-sized feline (8-14 kg), it lives in areas characterised by a mixture of dense woodland, Mediterranean scrub and pasture, especially areas with an abundance of rabbits and where interference from humans is minimal. Until the 19th century, the species could be found all across Spain and Portugal, but since that time, and particularly in recent decades, its population and distribution area have suffered an alarming decline. Nowadays it is estimated that only around 200 lynxes survive in the south-western quadrant of the Iberian peninsula (0.09% of its original territory). They are clustered in roughly 3 groups, 2 of them isolated , small, and with serious threats to survival. The major threats for this species are the fragmentation of and damage to its habitat, the scarcity of prey (rabbit), a high unnatural mortality rate (it is endangered by leg-hold traps, snares, poaching, road kills, etc.) and a lack of awareness of the species’ plight. Objectives The aim of the project was to ensure protection of the lynx and improve its habitat in 17 000 ha of private property located in two of the remaining areas where there may be a remnant population of the species, the Montes de Toledo and the Guadalmena river basin and the Relumbrar mountain range, both situated in the community of Castile-La Mancha. To achieve these aims, management agreements would be established with owners in order to reconcile the exploitation of resources with the presence of the species. Measures were planned to improve its habitat, increase the availability of species of prey including the leasing of hunting rights over rabbits, monitor the lynxes and patrol the project areas. At the same time, and in coordination with another project in Andalusia, an awareness-raising campaign would be targeted at all the sectors involved in the management of the species (hunters, public authorities, private owners, etc.), as well as the general public. Results The National Committee for Nature Protection approved a National Strategy for the Conservation of the Iberian lynx in 1999, which established the reference framework for conservation activities. Within this framework, the Lynx Recovery Plan in Castilla-La Mancha was established at autonomous regional government level. Estimates of the total population in 2004 averaged at 160 individuals located the southern half of the peninsula. In particular, the lynx was present in two geographically and genetically separate reproduction core areas: Andujar-Cardeña (Sierra Morena Oriental) and Doñana. During the life of the project, 2002-2006, there were sporadic sightings in the Toledo Mountains and in the Sierra del Relumbrar-Guadalmena, and thanks to the discovery of lynx excrement, it has been possible to confirm that there are individuals inhabiting both zones. Such a confirmation has an enormous importance for the conservation of the species, as each of these groups holds a genetic variability that could be of vital value for the future of the species. The project helped combine the efforts of the public and private sector in improving the state of conservation of the Iberian lynx and demonstrated how this objective could be compatible with the maintenance of traditional uses of private land. It drew up 16 collaboration agreements between the foundation and the landowners covering a total of 15 000 ha. These agreements were necessary for carrying out the rest of the project’s actions: Planning of actions on habitat handling and management. Rabbit hunting rights lease and habitat custody. Improving the lynx’s hunting grounds. Restoring the lynx’s hunting grounds. Creating watering points. Supplementary food for the Iberian lynx. Promoting rabbit populations. Creating supplementary feeding spaces for rabbits.The project also improved the habitat of scrubland rabbits in order to boost the lynx populations. After analysing the starting point for each area, an action plan was designed and implemented. Grass was planted and leguminous plants nurtured in 56.8 ha to improve the lynx hunting grounds, and 203.5 ha of natural pastures were fertilised to restore old hunting grounds. More than a hundred watering holes and 12 pools were created and five enclosures were set up for the supplementary feeding of lynxes. Around 150 artificial rabbit warrens were installed as well as more than 400 refuges and majanos. Supplementary feeding and repopulation of rabbits was also performed. The results form these measures were assessed to evaluate the effectiveness and suitability of the different measures adopted. Conclusions were set out in a publication titled “Manual de gestión del hábitat del Lince y de su presa principal, el conejo de monte” (Manual on managing the habitat of the Lynx and its main prey, the scrubland rabbit), which was made available to landowners, managers and all those with an interest in recovering the lynx’s habitat. Though still not conclusive, it shows that the actions taken were relatively successful. Another major part of the project was the monitoring of the Iberian lynx populations and the number of deaths related to human activity. Such work included sighting compilations, photo-traps (160 photo-trap stations were installed, with 35,442 night traps night-photos taken, though without any ‘capture’ of lynx evidence) and searches of signs (447 excrement samples were collected). The genetic analysis for the DNA identification of these excrement samples was carried out by the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales de Madrid (CSIC), within the scope of an agreement signed with the Castilla-La Mancha autonomous region government. This method has made it possible to detect the species in both the Montes de Toledo SCI, with a total of eight positive recordings and in the Sierra del Relumbrar–Cerro Vico–Río Guadal­mena, with six positive results. It was possible to detect the presence of this species in this region, even though it was considered to be virtually extinct. Monitoring tasks also included the elimination and control of the possible causes of non-natural mortality of the species, that is the reduction of poaching and the use of illegal traps. The project also drew up a genetic and health manual for the rabbit. Repopulations and translocations of rabbits require dependable knowledge in order that they might be carried out without yielding results contrary to those expected. The manual offers a detailed study of genetic and sanitary condition of possible donor and receiver populations to avoid harmful actions. This is a very useful management tool for managers of the species or hunters. Finally, a broad awareness campaign was carried out. It included the production of dissemination materials (three leaflets, one brochure, two videos, two TV broadcasts and a series of micro-spots), informative talks, opinion surveys on the conservation of the Iberian lynx, the wild rabbit and the natural environment (80 responses), debates aimed mainly at the world of hunting and the managers for these areas of the project (100 participants), school campaign in the municipalities involved, with the participation of more than 100 pupils, the creation of a website and public recognition awards to the landowners participating in the LIFE project. In addition, the project has drafted 11 technical hunting plans in collaborating estates according to a “Model for hunting practice compatible with the conservation of the lynx in the Montes de Toledo-Guadalmena”. These plans set out the general directives taking into account the particular conditions of each of the hunting preserves and try to optimise hunting practice with lynx conservation in the territory. Together these actions have led to the definition of a habitat management model that covers all of the interests involved and which represents a Natura 2000 management model.


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