Monitoring Disease Threats for the Reintroduction of the Endangered Iberian Lynx in Extremadura, Spain

$1,400 Awarded to Dr. Fernando Najera, Director of Veterinary Services for the Iberian Lynx Reintroduction Program in 2017

In 2014, a region of Extremadura (Spain) was chosen as a suitable reintroduction site for the endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), a cousin of the bobcat (Lynx rufus).  To date, 22 adult Iberian lynxes inhabit the area. This small population is more vulnerable to stochastic events such as exposure to infectious agents, therefore measuring the disease risk in endangered species populations may help predict potential outbreaks and serve as a conservation tool to develop careful intervention actions.  With the Iberian lynx, the lack of genetic diversity, small population size remaining in the wild, and the coexistence of sympatric carnivores (feral cats/dogs) that could act as disease reservoirs, put this species in a scenario of disease-induced extinction.  Dr. Fernando Najera, Director of Veterinary Services for the Iberian Lynx Reintroduction Program, used funds provided by a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo to capture, test and release 60 individuals (10 lynxes and 50 feral cats) for the presence of Canine Distemper Virus, Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.  His results showed that there is a low but active circulation of both feline leukemia virus (6.8%) and feline immunodeficiency virus (3.5%) in the reintroduction area which poses a risk for the reintroduced lynxes.  However, through education and community outreach, his team has improved the perception of the Iberian lynx within the community and has eliminated some myths and misconceptions so that locals now understand the importance of keeping a social positive attitude towards this top predator for its’ long term conservation.