Government under fire for “rushed, poorly-planned” lynx release

Government under fire for “rushed, poorly-planned” lynx release

Fears surrounding the return of the Iberian Lynx to the wild were highlighted this week as two cats raised in captivity in Silves were released in the Guadiana Natural Park near Mértola.
It was the first time captive lynx have been released in Portugal, and many feel the government has acted for political reasons that could backfire with devastating consequences.
For now, Jacarandá and Kathmandú are confined to a fenced area, where they will get used to the environment before being fully set free.
Plans are to release eight more lynx in the same area over the coming months. But the reintroduction programme is mired with uncertainties.
While the government line is that it is an “historic, proud moment” for Portugal, hunters and even Mértola council are sceptical and say the whole plan could come to a sticky end.
Calling the reintroduction programme “rushed, poorly-planned and totally wrong”, the council warns the right conditions for the lynx’s release are simply not in place.
“It isn’t enough just to release them,” Mértola mayor Jorge Rosa said in a press release. “You have to create the conditions for them to survive. So far, this hasn’t happened.”
Fears centre on VHD (short for viral haemorrhagic disease) which is a scourge that decimates rabbit populations on a cyclical basis.
If VHD was to appear in the area where the lynx are being released, opponents to the scheme say it could scupper the cats’ chances of survival – and effectively torpedo the many hundreds of thousands of euros worth of investment that have been ploughed into the programme.
There are also worries over the large number of roads that surround the area where the lynx are being released.
Earlier in July, environmental association Quercus said that “considering the proximity of next year’s legislative elections, the fear is that there may have been an attempt to politically manipulate this whole process”.
Mértola’s no-nonsense mayor agrees. Although the government has guaranteed that the rabbit population required for the release of the lynx is “above the minimum”, Rosa doubts it has done its homework.
“Everything leads me to believe that the 3.5 rabbits per hectare statistic gathered was either a mistake or intentionally changed,” he said in his release.
Rosa also accused the government of failing to discuss the programme with other authorities, such as the council, and particularly local residents – who may come into contact with the animals.
As zookeeper Paulo Figueiras told us over a year ago, there is a strong likelihood that farmers and other country people could target the lynx if the big cats start foraging for food “too close for comfort”.
Mayor Rosa elaborated: “We have done what the Ministry didn’t care to do at the time – meet with property owners, hunters, farmers and the local population to hear their concerns and opinions.”
The government nonetheless denies political manoeuvring. Secretary of State for Spatial Planning and Nature Conservation Miguel de Castro Neto said as he commemorated the lynx’s release that all adequate precautions have been taken.
Warning signs have also been placed on nearby roads advising drivers to slow down as the cats may cross – and Neto affirms the authorities have ensured that there are enough rabbits to keep the species alive.
“I believe this week is an historic moment as we are giving nature back an animal that became extinct in Portugal,” he said, adding that it is a “sign that the country’s nature conservation and biodiversity policies are on a positive track and that everyone should be proud of them”.
So far, the Silves Iberian Lynx Reproduction Centre has homed 86 lynx, 58 of which were born at the centre. Out of the total, 38 have been returned to the wild, thus far mostly in Spain.