Decline in rabbits a threat for Iberian Lynx and Spanish Imperial Eagle

| December 22, 2013 | Reply

Predators need prey.
In the case of the Iberian Lynx and Spanish Imperial Eagle this means Eurasian Rabbits. Although both species also hunt other prey (the eagle probably more than the cat), the Eurasian Rabbit is a crucial part of their diet.
Both the Iberian Lynx and the Spanish Imperial Eagle are among the rarest of cats and eagles. Both were close to extinction. Thanks to conservation efforts the eagle has now recovered and the current estimate is 407 pairs with 396 in Spain and 11 in Portugal (see: Castilla-La Mancha es la región con más parejas de áquila imperial).
There are also some good news for the Iberian Lynx, e.g. here: http://www.fauna-flora.org/news/cause-for-celebration-as-iberian-lynx-caught-on-camera-in-western-portugal/.

But the unstable state of the rabbits in Spain and Portugal are an ongoing threat. A new strain of the rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) is now decimating rabbit numbers again, reducing the prey for the cats and eagles.
In 2012 305 Iberian Lynx were counted but experts fear that it number is going to decline in 2013 due to lack of prey. If a female lynx does not hunt enough prey, their young will not survive or she may not even give birth at all.
The Iberian Lynx is so adapted to the Eurasian Rabbit that it is not capable of surviving without enough rabbits (see: Iberian Lynx Depends On Rabbits for Survival).

In the future climate change may further threaten the Iberian Lynx and experts now recommend that reintroductions also happen in the northern part of Spain and Portugal which is safer from climate change and could also provide good habitat for both rabbits and lynx.

The Spanish Imperial Eagle is also suffering from the decline in rabbit numbers. In the Doñana National Park, the population is still low and only at about 10 pairs. The eagles are also threatened by the illegal use of poison and electrocution (for more about the species, see here: Spanish Imperial Eagle species account on europeanraptors.org ). The use of poison apparently has increased recently, probably influenced by the decline of the rabbit.

SEO (Birdlife Spain) is demanding more action to boost rabbit numbers.

The fate of both the Iberian Lynx and the Spanish Imperial Eagle depend on the rabbit. It is ironic that the Eurasian Rabbit is a pest and non-native species in many parts of the world (e.g. Australia) but on the Iberian Peninsula, where it originally evolved, it is now a threatened species.

Other raptors also prey heavily on the rabbit, for example Golden Eagles and the threatened Bonelli’s Eagle.

More information:
Iberian lynx faces new threat as disease decimates rabbit population.

Current Efforts Will Not Save the World’s Most Endangered Cat.

Alerta sobre el desplome de la población de conejo en Doñana.

Category: cats, conservation, raptors

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