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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 11:46 GMT


Last chance for Europe's 'tiger'

Europe stands accused of hypocrisy

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says time is short if we are to save the Iberian lynx - sometime called Europe's 'tiger' - from extinction.

The BBC's Paul Welsh reports
The Campaign for Europe's Carnivores, a WWF-UK project, describes the lynx as "the world's most endangered cat". It says it has declined drastically in recent decades, and now numbers perhaps fewer than 600 animals in Spain and under 50 in Portugal.

[ image: Road developments are pushing back the lynx]
Road developments are pushing back the lynx
The lynx is in dire straits because of the population collapse of the rabbits which are its preferred prey, coupled with habitat loss, the fragmentation of its remaining populations, and persistent persecution by humans. Its range shrank by 80% between 1960 and 1990.

The Iberian lynx is one of only two carnivorous species endemic to Europe. The other is the mink. The lynx is on appendix one of the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). This listing gives it the highest protection possible under the convention.

WWF believes there is a real opportunity to arrest the species' decline through Natura 2000, the pan-European network of protected areas designed to conserve the continent's most threatened species and habitats.

Charismatic species

The European Union's habitats directive requires member states to set up a Natura 2000 ecological network, and the lynx is one species it calls on them to protect. A decision on lynx conservation sites is expected soon.

[ image: An Iberian lynx: Maimed by illegal leg-hold snare]
An Iberian lynx: Maimed by illegal leg-hold snare
WWF believes the Spanish Government's recent proposals for special areas of conservation for the lynx are inadequate, and cover only about half of the areas it thinks need protection. It says they fail to include important lynx habitats, as well as corridors linking separate patches of habitat.

In any case, it says, several of the proposed conservation areas are threatened by development.

Andrew Lee, of WWF-UK, said: "The Iberian lynx is Europe's tiger. If the habitats directive cannot save this charismatic species, what hope is there for the many other species it is designed to protect?"

WWF wants the rapid designation of a comprehensive Natura 2000 network, and effective protection of all designated areas. It is also calling for the redesign of subsidies under the EU's common agricultural policy and of infrastructure plans, where these affect the lynx.

WWF says the loss of the lynx would be "a huge embarrassment" for Europe, which would undermine its credibility in calling on other regions to protect their endangered species.

[ image:  ]

The above map shows WWF proposals for the special areas of conservation for lynx in Spain. The yellow areas show the locations where the Spanish government is prepared to act. The red areas are those locations excluded by the Spanish Government proposals but which WWF believes should also be designated.

All images from WWF-UK

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