For some time now, the Iberian Lynx’s numbers have been falling fast and the species is in very real danger of becoming extinct. New breeding programmes were put into place earlier this year and Eduardo Gonçalves, Director of the SOS Lynx organisation, was confident that the Iberian Lynx was still at large in the Algarve and would not be wiped out in the region because of a lack of food and living conditions. After the recent fires that hit areas in the Algarve and Alentejo, Resident reporter GEORGE FLETCHER caught up with Gonçalves to discuss the effect that the latest fires have had on the Iberian Lynx population.
“The forest fires of both this year and last have destroyed almost all the Iberian Lynx’s natural habitat,” he explained. “It is almost as if fate has drawn a map of all the prime lynx spots – all the places hit by fires are precisely where most of the remaining population was living.” Gonçalves was reluctant to comment on the number of lynx still left in the Algarve and explained that he could not confirm the recent press reports that suggested almost all the lynx population had fled to Spain. “If they are going to Spain, then it is due to a lack of food in the Algarve and Alentejo regions where the fires occured,” he commented.
“However, we are confident that there are still lynx alive and well in the Algarve. Around three weeks ago, a Spanish dentist saw one in Silves, while out on his bike. And a couple of weeks before that, there was another sighting near Portimão. This is very good news for us at SOS Lynx and it gives us confidence that not all lynx have fled the Algarve for safety and food – some are still surviving well in Portugal.” As yet, however, he is unable to discuss actual numbers.
What is being done in the
Algarve to protect the lynx?
“There is a lot to be done in order to keep on top of the ever dwindling numbers,” explained Gonçalves. “And SOS Lynx is essentially going to have to rebuild entire lynx areas to keep them alive, safe and breeding.”
The charity is currently in the process of launching a one million euro project, which will transform 140 hectares of land in São Mamede, and the surrounding areas in the Alentejo, into an area suitable for lynx. This area was badly affected by the fires that raged through the Alentejo last year. “We have received support from all the local câmaras, farmers and hunters,” explained Gonçalves. “So far, we have around six câmaras involved, which is imperative for the success of our project and we are pleased with such an interest in our conservation programme.”
This will be the largest ever Iberian lynx conservation scheme and will also concentrate efforts on stopping the illegal hunting of lynx. “All the necessary authorities have approved it, so now it is simply a matter of waiting for a confirmation from the EU funding department of exactly how much we can expect to receive for the project.”
Once this particular conservation project is up and running, SOS Lynx plans to repeat the exercise in the Monchique area, to ensure the safety of the lynx that remain there. “We have already drafted plans for this and are in talks with local farmers, landowners and hunters about the geographics of the project, so it’s just a matter of time,” explained Gonçalves.
Come on you lynx!
And in some positive news for the charity, the newly formed Algarve United football team are now the official sponsors of the SOS Lynx project and will be donating 10 per cent of their profits to the charity. Now, like other football clubs in Portugal, Algarve United has an animal nickname – the Lynx. “This is fantastic news! Everybody loves football, so it is a brilliant way for us to get our message across”, said Gonçalves.
Corrado Correggi, Director of Algarve United, works in the cork industry, so he understands the devastating impact that the fires had on wildlife. Correggi and Gonçalves have known each other for a few years now and have worked together to try to improve the situation for the wildlife affected by the forest fires of 2003 and 2004. “It is a charity that is very close to my heart and I am very excited about supporting the rejuvenation of the lynx population. The Algarve United team is also pleased with the sponsorship and is looking forward to seeing the population of the wild cats increase with its help,” he explained.
Rhino tracking programme is
useful for lynx protection
SOS Lynx is also in the process of introducing some advanced computer software, which monitors breeds and sightings of lynx. Pictures of a lynx can be scanned into the computer and the programme can identify the breed of the lynx and record its details. Therefore, if the same lynx’s footprint is recorded again, it can immediately be identified. For Gonçalves, this is a real breakthrough for the charity, as the software has been used to record numbers of the black rhino and is highly advanced and accurate.
The fires that have raged through the region for the past two summers have certainly taken their toll on wildlife, but SOS Lynx is determined that the Iberian lynx will survive and continue to fight hard to save the wild cats from extinction.