The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), sometimes referred to as the Spanish lynx, is a critically endangered feline mammal native to the Iberian Peninsula in Southern Europe. The species often used to be misclassified as a subspecies of the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), but is now considered a separate species. Both species occurred together in central Europe in the Pleistocene epoch, being separated by habitat choice. The Iberian lynx is believed to have evolved from Lynx issiodorensis.
While the Eurasian lynx bears rather pallid markings, the Iberian lynx has distinctive, leopard-like spots with a coat that is often light grey or various shades of light brownish-yellow. Some western populations were spotless though these have recently become extinct. The head and body length is 85–110 cm, with the short tail an additional 12–30 cm; the shoulder height is 60–70 cm. The male is larger than the female, with the average weight of males 12.9 kg and a maximum of 26.8 kg, compared to 9.4 kg for females; this about half the size of the Eurasian lynx. The Iberian lynx does not differ greatly from the Eurasian lynx but more closely resembles a bobcat. The face is more cat-like than that of Eurasian lynx. It has a short stubby bob tail with a black tip, and a tuft of black hair on the tip of the pointed ears, whiskers and sideburns.
The Iberian lynx is smaller than its northern relatives, and so typically hunts smaller sized animals, usually no larger than hares. It also differs in habitat choice, with Iberian lynx inhabiting open scrub and Eurasian lynx inhabiting forests. It hunts mammals (including rodents and insectivores), birds, reptiles and amphibians at twilight. The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is its main prey (79.5-86.7%), with (5.9%) hares (Lepus granatensis) and (3.2%) rodents less common. A male requires one rabbit per day, and a female bringing up cubs will eat three rabbits per day. As the population of rabbits in Spain has declined, the Iberian lynx is often forced to attack young deer, fallow deer, roebuck or mouflons. The Iberian lynx competes with the red fox, the meloncillo (Herpestes ichneumon) and the wildcat. It is solitary and hunts alone; it will stalk its prey or lie in wait for hours behind a bush or rock until the prey is sufficiently close to pounce in a few strides. The tufts of hair on its ears helps it to detect sources of sound; without them, its hearing capacity is greatly reduced. The edges of its feet are covered in long thick hair, which facilitates silent movement through snow. Lynx, especially with younger animals, roam widely, with ranges reaching more than 100 km. Also it has a territory (~ 10-20 km²), depending on how much food is available. The Iberian lynx marks its territory with its urine, droppings and scratch marks on the barks of trees.
During the mating season the female leaves her territory in search of a male. The typical gestation period is about two months; the cubs are born between March and September, with a peak of births in March and April. A litter consists of two or three (rarely one, or four to five) kittens weighing between 200–250 grams. The kittens become independent at 7–10 months old, but remain with the mother until around 20 months old. Survival of the young depends heavily on the availability of prey species. In the wild both males and females reach sexual maturity at one year old, though in practice they rarely breed until a territory becomes vacant; one female was known not to breed until five years old when its mother died. The maximum longevity in the wild is 13 years.
This lynx was once distributed over the entire Iberian Peninsula. It is now restricted to very small areas, with breeding only confirmed in two areas of Andalucía, southern Spain. The Iberian lynx prefers heterogeneous environments of open grassland mixed with dense shrubs such as Arbutus, lentisk, and Juniper; and trees such as Holm oak and Cork oak. Mainly in mountainous areas covered with vegetation; maquis or "Mediterranean forest".
The Iberian lynx is a critically endangered species. The Iberian lynx is the world's most threatened species of cat, and the most threatened carnivore in Europe.