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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 March, 2005, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Hopes raised by Spain lynx births
Iberian lynx, PA
Road deaths are now the greatest cause of mortality for the lynx
The birth of three Iberian lynx cubs in Spain has given hope to the future of a species on the brink of disappearing.

The cubs were born as part of a special breeding programme in the Donana national park in southern Spain.

The government described the Iberian lynx, found only in Spain and Portugal, as the world's most endangered feline.

Earlier this month, conservation group WWF warned that the Iberian lynx could become the first big cat since the sabre-toothed tiger to die out.

The critically endangered animal could become extinct within five years unless swift action is taken, WWF said.

Environment Minister Cristina Narbona said she planned to visit the new litter.

"It's good news for the conservation of Spain's wealthy fauna," she added.

Falling numbers

The mother of the cubs, Saliega, was captured in 2002 in the Sierra Morena region.

She was the third cub of her litter and had slim chances of surviving in the wild. Her partner, Garfio, was also captured to be introduced into the breeding programme.

The cubs, born on Monday, are reported to be in excellent condition and showing "active and vigorous behaviour".

The environment ministry says there are only 13 Iberian lynx in captivity - 12 of which could breed.

Lynx numbers have declined from 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th Century to around just 100-120 in the wild today.

Dam building, road deaths, hunting and a decline in wild rabbits have led to the cat's downfall, the report says.

The WWF is also calling for lynx habitat to be covered by the EU's Natura 2000 Programme, which offers the strongest level of protection in Europe.

Currently, the areas proposed by Spain for Natura 2000 designation do not cover the biological corridor that could be used to connect the remaining breeding population in Donana National Park with the one in Sierra Morena.

See the first ever lynx cubs born in captivity

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