A spotter’s guide to the Iberian lynx
This cat is rare and exceptionally camouflaged, but this guide can help you find this elusive beauty
Once widespread over Spain, Portugal and France, one of Europe’s only native carnivores now resides only in the mountains of south-west Spain. Iberian lynx are critically endangered, but they are not impossible to spot if you know what you’re looking for. The best time of year to look for lynx is either in mating season between December and January, or between March and May when females begin to raise their cubs. Sightings are reported throughout the year, but visitors making a special lynx excursion should stick to the spring to be in with the best chance of a sighting.
There are two hotspots at either end of the Sierra Morena mountain range – Doñana national park in the south-west and Sierra de Andujar national park in the centre of Spain. Both parks have restricted areas to protect the endangered lynx, but some of the park is open to visitors and Doñana even has an Iberian lynx breeding centre. Lynx tend to live in scrubland and forests, so watching an open patch of land from a high viewing point is a good way to start. If you don’t want an official guide then feel free to ask the local people who might know the best spots.
The very best way to get a sighting of a lifetime is to get help from the experts. Many different companies offer lynx-spotting tours and have consistent sightings from year to year. These guides know every inch of the area and are your best hope to catch a glimpse of a lynx. On a summer wildlife trip wear cool, neutral clothing and supportive footwear, but wrap up for winter trips. Remember – a lynx can spot a mouse from 75 metres (250 feet) away, so it will be able to see you. Keep quiet and still, and if a lynx appears make sure you enjoy the view.
Quick questions with a lynx tour guide
Chris Townend has been lynx-spotting for years and takes visitors on trips to spot this elusive feline
What are the chances of seeing a lynx in the wild?
Patience and scanning lynx habitat using binoculars or telescope is the key to success. I recommend a four night stay and if you search the right habitat you have an excellent chance. To date, all of my visits between December and February have been successful; you just need some good weather, local knowledge and a little luck.
When is the best time of year to spot a lynx?
Between December and January is the best time to try and see Iberian lynx. This is when males tend to be more visible as they patrol their territories in the hope of finding a female to mate with. They tend to be more vocal at this time of year, which can be very helpful when trying to locate an animal.
Can you find lynx on your own or should you seek help from a specialist?
Unescorted Iberian lynx sightings are possible if you are an experienced wildlife watcher and have some local knowledge. I would say it’s worth using a guide to have up-to date information and local knowledge, which in turn should increase your chances of a sighting.
Can spotters expect a close encounter with a lynx?
In my experience, Iberian lynx can sometimes be inquisitive about crowds of lynx watchers. There have also been occasions where animals have walked within just a few metres of me, completely unperturbed by my presence. A normal encounter would be to see an animal with a telescope between a few hundred metres and a kilometre away. Sightings from inside a vehicle whilst driving slowly in known territories are also quite common and can often be very close.
What should lynx spotters wear, and what equipment should they take?
Wearing neutral coloured clothing and remaining very quiet and still are the usual rules for all wildlife watching. Despite being in Spain, weather can get very cold in winter, so wrap up warm for December trips. A Telescope and binoculars are essential as Iberian lynx can blend in with their surroundings incredibly well.
Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje