At simultaneous press conferences in Madrid, London and Brussels, WWF said the animal would become extinct unless the Spanish government set aside more protected areas. Its population has crashed from 1,100 individuals to fewer than 600 in 10 years.
The Iberian lynx, which is found only in Spain and Portugal, is now Europe's equivalent of the tiger, WWF said, but is even more critically endangered as there are 5,000 tigers in captivity to back the 5,000 left in the wild, but there are only four captive lynxes, all females.
The lynx population, which once stretched throughout Spain, is now reduced to a few fragmented groups that are threatened by in-breeding, disease, hunting, development projects and chance accidents such as being hit by cars.
Lynxes have been decimated by loss of their preferred scrubland habitat, often by European Union-funded development projects, and by the loss of their favourite prey, rabbits, whichhave declined by 95 per cent in Spain because of disease.
The lynx can be saved, WWF said, but only if Spain's proposed network of protected sites under the EU wildlife law, the Habitats Directive, is widened so that small populations are not left isolated.