Return of the missing lynx

Europe’s “big cats” make a welcome recovery

Michael Roeder

Return of the missing lynx

Europe’s “big cats” make a welcome recovery

Reduced range

Of the four species of lynx that exist globally, two are found in Europe – the Eurasian lynx, and its cousin, the smaller, more brightly coloured Iberian lynx, which is now confined to southern Spain and Portugal. With a characteristically bobbed tail, spotted coat, long legs and a muscular body, these solitary, stealthy predators avoid humans and typically hunt at night, so they are rarely seen.

Lynx in the forest

Eurasian Lynx

The Eurasian Lynx has a very wide geographical range, extending from Western Europe to Central Asia. In Europe, hunting and habitat loss has seen the animal’s distribution shrink severely over the last centuries – nevertheless, there is hope. Since its lowest numbers in the mid 20th century, the Eurasian lynx has benefitted from conservation attention and has significantly recovered in range size and abundance. By expanding existing populations in Scandinavia and the north-western Carpathians and releases in Austria, Slovenia, Switzerland and Poland, the Eurasian lynx has made a comeback.

Iberian Lynx

Iberian Lynx

The position of the Iberian lynx is precarious – with around 1,100 animals remaining in the wild, this is currently one of the most endangered feline species in the world. Iberian lynx once ranged across the Iberian Peninsula, occupying a mosaic of wooded and scrubland habitat, but populations were decimated by hunting and poaching, habitat loss and the decline of their main prey species, the European rabbit (mainly as a result of the viral disease myxomatosis). Thanks to captive breeding and releases, the Iberian lynx population has recently recovered in abundance, nevertheless – there is still a long way to recovery.

Keystone species

As top predators, lynx are keystone species, helping to maintain balanced, healhy populations of other animals. Like wolves, European bison and beavers, keystone species are widlife species that have a large impact on their community by controlling the dominance of other species, or by changing habitat structure. In Europe, both the Eurasian and Iberian lynx are of cultural importance too, and they are increasingly important for wildlife tourism.

Bouncing back

Staffan Widstrand

Eurasian Comeback

Intentionally eradicated from many parts of Europe, the Eurasian lynx was considered extinct in nearly the whole of Central Europe for 200 years. Since the 1970s, however, it has been reintroduced to Switzerland, Slovenia, Croatia, France, Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Austria. Successful reintroduction into appropriate habitat relies strongly on acceptance by the general public. There are now thought to be around 17,000 to 18,000 Eurasian lynx in Europe.

Fabien Quetier

Eurasian lynx in our Rewilding Landscapes

The Eurasian lynx is found as a breeding species in five of Rewilding Europe’s operational areas: the Central Apennines (Italy), Velebit Mountains (Croatia), Southern Carpathians (Romania) and (Bulgaria), as well as Swedish Lapland (Sweden) and the  Oder Delta.

Staffan Widstrand

Iberian success

Thanks to a captive breeding programme, the Iberian lynx has become one of European conservation’s greatest success stories, with numbers in the wild up from just 94 in 2002 to about 1,100 today. This increasing population, which extends across 1,500 square kilometres, is recolonising new territory, with sightings in Toledo, Badajoz and Ciudad Real. Further Iberian lynx conservation action is still needed, involving ongoing efforts to recover prey populations (especially European rabbit), enhance habitat quality and connectivity, and release lynx in new areas to connect populations.

Staffan Widstrand

Rabbits and Iberian lynx

A specialist in both prey and habitat, the survival of the Iberian lynx is intimately tied to the survival of its main prey species: the European rabbit. Historically, wild rabbits were highly abundant on the Iberian peninsula. But two contagious viral diseases (particularly myxomatosis) have decimated the population. Whenever the rabbit population grows significantly, another virus strain strikes back and reduces the number of prey animals for the cats. Rabbit restocking programmes are now underway in many areas.

Pete Oxford/ Wild Wonders of Europe

Iberian lynx in our Rewilding Landscapes

The local rewilding teams in Portugal and Spain are working hard to create favourable conditions for the animals to recolonise the Greater Côa Valley and Iberian Highlands. By enhancing natural grazing, the introduction of free-roaming wild herbivores such as wild horses and Tauros is creating mosaic landsapes favoured by prey species such as European rabbit and red-legged partridge.

European Rewilding Network


In 2019, the European Rewilding Network welcomed the LIFE Lynx initiative, which is working to enhance genetic diversity in the Eurasian lynx populations of Slovenia and Croatia by reintroducing 14 Eurasian lynx from Slovakia and Romania. It will also reintroduce further animals to improve connectivity between regional sub-populations. Five countries are involved (Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania and Slovakia), as well as a diverse range of stakeholders, including local communities and hunters.


Up until now, five lynx have been released in Croatia and ten in Slovenia. Last year, Ljubo, another male lynx, has been released in the Velebit mountains rewilding landscape. The released lynx are expected to help increase the important influence of this keystone species as an apex predator within the Velebit ecosystem, boosting biodiversity, maintaining ecosystem health, and contributing to the circle of life, while further serving as a major draw for local tourism.

Support the return of the lynx


Staffan Widstrand

Support the return of the lynx


More species we are focusing on

European bison


Wild horses



Other species

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