11/21/2021 at 11:11 am CET
The wild cat (Felis silvestris A study carried out in the Cabañeros National Park in Castile-La Mancha confirmed the worst omens. The bobcat density in this protected area is among the lowest in Europe, well below those considered optimal for this species. Scientists openly speak of a “silent extinction”.
“Our results support a extremely low density of European wild cats in a highly protected area (Cabañeros National Park), which suggests that this population is probably going through a extinction process& rdquor ;. This is the main conclusion of the research carried out by scientists of the Game Resources Management and Wildlife Research Group of the Game Resources Research Institute (IREC – CSIC, UCLM, JCCM), led by Dr Pablo Ferreras and in collaboration with researchers from the University of Malaga and the CIBIO-University of Porto (Portugal).
The authors of the work suggest that the low density estimated for this bobcat population could represent a common situation among populations of the species in the south of the Iberian Peninsula. Faced with this eventuality, they raise the need for more studies. And also the urgent need to apply conservation measures at the most south-eastern end of the range of this species in Europe.
There are only 15 wild cats left in Cabañeros
There are only 15 wild cats left in CabañerosIn Cabañeros, an absolute population size of 15 feral cats has been estimated (95% confidence interval: 5 to 34 individuals). The average population density estimated with the integrated model was 0.038 & pm; 0.017 copies per square kilometer. This figure is among the lowest values described to date for the species in all of Europe.. This despite being a highly protected area.
Among the possible Causes of this low density, scientists point out low availability of prey (mainly rabbits and small mammals). This circumstance could have triggered “an extinction vortex process& rdquor ;, they point out.
The researchers applied a model that included live captures with individual identification, camera captures without individual identification, and radio tracks. All of this was incorporated into a capture-recapture count data model, which resulted in reliable data on the feral cat population in the national park.
Ten live captures of five bobcats were taken with an effort of 2,034 days of trapping, while seven independent wildcat events were recorded in camera traps with 3,628 days of camera. In addition, two feral cats were radiolabeled and telemetry information on their movements was obtained.
The investigation encountered many pitfalls. For example, the difficulty in distinguishing individuals of feral cats from those of other felines and the lack of specific censuses. In reality, the figures of the populations of feral cats in the Iberian Peninsula are not known with certainty.
Increasingly isolated populations
Increasingly isolated populationsThe densities recorded in areas considered optimal for this species hover around 0.38 individuals per square kilometer, although in Europe a density of 0.2 individuals per square kilometer is more common, according to the Ministry of Ecological Transition. The data obtained in Cabañeros are ten times lower than the optimal density.
Experts, after analyzing the data collected, concluded that Iberian wild cat populations are experiencing “population decline and increasing isolation& rdquor ;. For this reason, they consider it “urgent” to identify the causes of the decline.
“We argue that in situations like the one we have identified in this protected area, improving the abundance of prey (rabbits and small mammals) could promote population recovery& rdquor ;, they specify. Because it would promote smaller ranges and increase survival and fertility.
All this, ultimately, would lead to “a higher density of feral cats and a reduction in contact with domestic cats in peripheral areas, limiting the risks of hybridization and disease transmission between the two species”.
Mortality from non-selective predator control methods, habitat loss and fragmentation are other causes that science has shown to explain the decline of the species. However, an international study published this year concluded that 83% of feral cat deaths in Europe are caused by humans.
“Further studies are urgently needed to guide sound conservation strategies and reverse the decline of feral cat populations in the Mediterranean,” the researchers stress.
Very few specimens in Doñana
Very few specimens in DoñanaPrevious studies have already reported reduced populations of feral cats in other protected areas of the Iberian Peninsula. In Doñana National Park, for example, a “surprisingly low abundance of feral cats was reported in 2014, despite legal protection of this space for more than five decades & rdquor;. Plus: in 2009 the “Drastic reduction of wild cats in the Serra da Malcata nature reserve (Portugal) and its replacement by domestic cats in the wild.
The species is “strictly protected & rdquor; by European legislation. The bobcat is on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In Spain, it is also in danger of extinction.
In the Iberian Peninsula there are three subspecies of wild cat. The first is the Felis silvestris tartessia, which lives south of the Ebro and Duero rivers. The second is Felis silvestris silvestris, which is found in the north of the peninsula. And the third, Felis lybica jordansi, common on the island of Mallorca.
Core study: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10531-021-02309-1
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Main photo: Wildkatzen, Wikimedia Commons