National Geographic Channel
At 17 pounds (8 kilograms), Cromo, an 8-month-old Iberian lynx captured in the wild, hardly looks bigger than a house cat. But he bears a weighty responsibility.
Cromo is the only male Iberian lynx in captivity. Cromo's species faces extinction, authorities say, and more births are crucial.
The Iberian lynx is sometimes called the European tiger because of its spots and hunting prowess. Adult males grow to 3 feet long (90 centimeters), 2 feet high (60 centimeters) and 31 pounds (14 kilograms). Its range once extended to southern France. Now the Iberian lynx lives only in isolated pockets of Portugal and southern Spain.
A 1998 survey reported 1,200 Iberian lynx in the wild; a survey last year, 300. Any animal with a population less than 1,000 usually is considered severely endangered.
"Latest estimates of the cat total about 150," says Eduardo Goncalves, director of SOS Lynx, a nonprofit conservation group in Lisbon, Portugal, and co-author of a new book about the lynx, The Algarve Tiger.
"But even those numbers might be too optimistic. We're clearly in the pre-extinction phase of the Iberian lynx."
Starvation, poaching (for the fur) and road kills are the Iberian lynx' leading cause of death. Development, including road-building, has long shrunk the habitat. Last year, wildfires in Portugal consumed 600,000 acres (243,000 hectares), driving out the lynx and its prey.
Finding A Match for Cromo
"The wild rabbit, the lynx's favorite food, is also threatened by imported diseases and forest fires," says Maria do Rosario Rodrigues, administrative director of the Association of Municipalities of North Alentejano, a government organization that helps protect the lynx's habitat.
At the Jerez Zoo, director Inigo Sanchez and a team of zoologists and veterinarians are developing a lynx breeding program. They're trying to acquire 12 healthy catsthe minimum necessary for the breeding program, they believe.
So far, they have four females and Cromo.
Since 1994 the zoo has been housing and sometimes breeding the American bobcat, a close relative of the lynx.
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