The endangered Iberian lynx may survive after all, as numbers in southern and central Spain are increasing for the first time after decades of decline.
The Environment minister, Cristina Narbona, said yesterday that Spain aimed eventually "to fix a timetable to remove the lynx from its status as a species under threat of extinction". Speaking in Seville, where Spain and Portugal signed an Iberian lynx pact to implement protective measures, she promised Madrid would contribute ¿7m (£4.9m) over four years to support the lynx, in addition to ¿26m pledged by the EU.
Two years ago, scarcely 150 lynxes survived in two small colonies in Andalusia. But the population is now growing, with up to 250 in two colonies in the region. This year 44 cubs were born, according to Andalusia's environment spokeswoman, Fuensanta Coves.
Scientists are also finding that lynxes are returning to their abandoned habitats. A stable colony of 15 (including six young) has established itself further north, in the Castilla-La Mancha region. It was spotted in 2002, and glimpsed only intermittently since, until last month, when several lynxes were filmed in privately owned hunting grounds.
In addition, a captive breeding programme based in Acebuche near the Coto Doñana wetlands offers a back-up. In March 2005, the first young were born: now there are 37, divided between centres in Doñana and Jaen, further east. When the number of reproductive age reaches 60, in about 2010, the captive lynxes will be gradually introduced into the wild.