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 Friday, 27 December, 2002, 13:41 GMT
Champagne corks help the lynx
The Iberian Lynx
Iberian lynx: Only 150 left
Wildlife campaigners are urging shoppers to buy New Year champagne bottled with a real cork stopper, to help prevent the extinction of the Iberian lynx.

The move by the wine and champagne industry towards synthetic "corks" and screw-tops is leading farmers to destroy Spanish and Portuguese cork forests - the lynx's natural habitat.

Supermarkets must label their wine bottles so shoppers can choose to support the cork oak forests of the Mediterranean

Beatrix Richards WWF
Campaigners said on Friday that the Iberian lynx could be the first cat to die out since the sabre-toothed tiger.

There are only 150 left, and only 30 of those are breeding females, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

"Something radical must happen to save the lynx or it will be gone within the decade," said Eduardo Goncalves, author of The Algarve Tiger, a book about the Iberian lynx.

Sustainable forestry

The cork forests have been a major industry in southern and central Spain and Portugal for centuries, producing 15 billion corks per year from sustainably harvested tree bark.

Harvesting cork
It is like peeling a banana
But with demand for cork waning, farmers have been felling the forests and turning to alternative crops.

"Clever propaganda by the manufacturers of screw tops and plastic corks has led many people to think that cork stoppers are bad for the environment when exactly the opposite is true," said Beatrix Richards of the WWF.

"Supermarkets must label their wine bottles so shoppers can choose to support the cork oak forests of the Mediterranean."

No trees are cut down when the bark is harvested - a process WWF describes as being like peeling a skin from a banana.

In some forests the trees live for 400 years.

Eagle at risk

As recently as 1999 it was estimated that more than 600 Iberian lynxes - distant cousins of the American bobcat - remained on the Iberian peninsula.

The WWF says Mediterranean cork forests are also home to other endangered species, including the Iberian imperial eagle and, in Tunisia, the Barbary deer.

Europe's entire crane population overwinters in Spain and Portugal's cork oak forests.

See also:

06 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
24 Jul 02 | Rob on the road
14 Nov 99 | Science/Nature
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