Portugal fires threaten rare lynx


PORTUGAL: Portugal's devastating forest fires could drive the rare Iberian lynx closer to extinction, a conservation group said yesterday.

"We could be on the verge of the first-ever big cat extinction since prehistoric times," Mr Eduardo Goncalves, president of SOS Lynx, a conservation group fighting to save the animal, said in a statement.

Official estimates say only about 150 of the nocturnal, spotted cats are left in the mountains of southwestern Spain and Portugal, an area ravaged by fires in recent weeks, the group said.

Fires have destroyed about 830,000 acres of Portuguese forest this year, much of it since late July, and killed 18 people. The fires were fanned by a heatwave that gripped much of Europe, and was blamed for the deaths of thousands of people, including 1,300 in Portugal.

The fires also destroyed pastures that were feeding grounds for wild rabbits, the lynx's main prey, SOS Lynx said. The number of lynxes had already dropped by 90 per cent over the last decade as diseases wiped out large numbers of rabbits. Farmers also are cutting down cork tree forests, one of the pointy-eared lynx's habitats, to make way for more profitable crops.

The cat can grow to the size of a 28 lb domestic dog. - (Reuters)