Iberian lynxes make their big screen debut

At a Spanish nature reserve, 20 cameras monitor the progress of endangered cubs - but they're not as cuddly as they look
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The Independent Online

Every gambol, every mew and snuffle, of the world's first Iberian lynxes born in captivity can now be seen and heard on a giant screen installed last week near their enclosure in a Spanish nature reserve.

Every gambol, every mew and snuffle, of the world's first Iberian lynxes born in captivity can now be seen and heard on a giant screen installed last week near their enclosure in a Spanish nature reserve.

This Big Brother-style monitoring is the latest step in a government-sponsored intensive care programme to protect the endangered species from extinction.

When a litter of three - Brezo, Brisa and Bresina - were born in March at the Captive Breeding Centre of Andalusia's Coto Doñana reserve, scientists hailed the event as a historic turning point in efforts to save the lynx, of which only 150 remain in the wild.

But earlier this month, the three cuddly bundles with cute tufted ears showed their aggressive side. Brezo turned upon his weaker sibling, Bresina, and in a fratricidal frenzy bit him to death in the throat. "We feared this would happen. Lynxes usually produce litters of three or four, but only the two strongest survive," said Astrid Vargas, director of the centre. "We thought the reason was shortage of food, but we learned that it's part of the weaning process, when the mother's milk declines and the cubs fight for the breast."

Ms Vargas separated the two remaining lynxes at night, allowing them to suckle in shifts of four hours each. "At least that way they don't fight," she says. The strategy was understood by their mother, Saliega. "She took only a day and a half to realise that her cubs took turns to suckle."

The family of three is reunited during the day, and the two cubs now tumble about happily. Twenty cameras dotted about their terrain track every move, so humans need not come near.

Naturalists took Saliega from the wild two years ago, knowing she stood little chance of survival. They reared her with a similarly acquired male, Garfio. In coming months scientists hope to take cubs from litters in the wild and rear them to breed in captivity. The centre aims to acquire 60 or 70 lynxes whose offspring would be re-introduced into the wild.

The number of lynxes in Spain has plummeted because of the shortage of their prey - rabbits - and because of road accidents.

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