Portugal plans to reintroduce the Iberian lynx, the world's most endangered feline species, into the wild, the country's environment ministry said in a statement Friday.
The Portuguese Institute for Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) signed contracts with the owners of 2,000 hectares of land in Mertola, 180 km southeast of Lisbon, where the Iberian lynx will soon be set free, Xinhua reported citing the ministry statement.
A monument to the Iberian lynx. Picture for representational purposes
According to Secretary of State of Spatial Planning and Nature Conservation, Miguel Castro Neto, this is "a decisive step in the project, beginning the geographic definition, in close cooperation with landowners and managers, of the location for reintroduction of the Iberian lynx".
The secretary of state also signed a related project to increase the number of wild rabbits -- the lynx's main food source -- in the region.
The Iberian lynx is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s red list as critically endangered.
According to the IUCN website, "the Iberian Lynx occurs only in isolated pockets of southwestern Spain, and its continued survival in Portugal is uncertain”.
“There are only two known breeding populations in Spain and the latest survey results suggest a minimum of 84 and a maximum of 143 adults," IUCN says.
Captive breeding programmes in both Spain and Portugal have increased the captive population of the Iberian lynx and these animals would be used for the reintroduction.