After a month in the wild, tired and thin, Fran the lynx makes it home

14-year-old male, released when breeding center in Doñana was threatened by forest fire in June, returns

Victoria Torres Benayas

A month on, Fran, the last of 13 lynxes that were released from the El Acebuche Ex-Situ breeding center in the Doñana national park in June as a forest fire closed in, is back safe and sound in semi-captivity.

Fran is examined after his month in the wild.
Fran is examined after his month in the wild.EL ACEBUCHE

“He is very thin and we are carrying out tests and looking after him to help his recovery,” Miguel Ángel Simón, director of the LIFE+Iberlince, told EL PAÍS by telephone on July 20, a day after his return.

“First assessments suggest he is in good physical condition, although he’s lost a lot of weight. His analyses are good, although we need to test him to see if he has contracted any disease,” explained Francisco Villaespesa, the director of El Acebuche, also by telephone.

We had seen tracks and we assumed it was him because, as he’s lame, he leaves a special mark Miguel Àngel Simón, director of LIFE+Iberlince

On June 25, as a forest fire spread into part of the Doñana national park, in southwestern Spain, it was decided to evacuate El Acebuche’s lynxes. Staff managed to round up some 14 animals and remove them from the area by car, but did not have time to rescue another 13, who were released into the wild. A female lynx called Homer later died, reportedly from stress.

The following day, 11 of the 13 lynxes, which had not left the breeding center, were returned to their installations. Two days later, the 12th was found, a 13-year-old female called Aura.

Unlike lynxes that are bred to be reintroduced into the wild, Fran did not have a GPS collar. Over the last month, the team at El Acebuche has searched the area, placing traps and cameras, but had not managed to spot him.

Fran readies to pounce at El Acebuche.
Fran readies to pounce at El Acebuche.Antonio Rivas

“We’ve been after Fran to see if we could locate him. We had seen tracks and we assumed it was him because, as he’s lame, he leaves a special mark,” said Simón. Early on Wednesday morning, members of the El Acebuche team spotted him near a road about 10 kilometers from the center. After an hour, they were able to rescue him.

Simón said the animal, aged 15 and in captivity for 14 years of his life, would barely have been able to hunt during his time in the wild. “He was captured in September 2003 after he injured himself. His leg was broken, possibly by a trap,” says Simón. After spending time at a center in Córdoba, he was taken to El Acebuche, and then to Jerez Zoo, and finally, in 2016, returned to El Acebuche, where he lives in a 500-square-meter compound.

Fran, one of the most popular lynxes at El Acebuche, has failed to produce any offspring, says Villaespesa. “We’ve tried again this year, but no luck. He is very old now and it’s difficult.”

A female lynx and her young at the El Acebuche breeding center in June 2016.
A female lynx and her young at the El Acebuche breeding center in June 2016.VÍDEO: EPV

Simón says that the other lynxes at the center, including five cubs, are well. “The center was back to normal within 24 hours. The evacuation was a bit unnerving for the animals, but once they were back in their installations they soon calmed down. There have been no incidents with the adults or the cubs,” said Simón.

On the same day that Fran was recovered, two lynxes were found dead: the first on a stretch of the A-4 highway near the town of Andújar, in Jaén province; the other on a back road near Badajoz.

The lynx is the most endangered feline on the planet. At last count, in 2016, there were just 483 examples left on the Iberian peninsula, and are to be found in Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, Madrid, and Portugal. This year, 45 cubs have been born in the five breeding centers that are part of the Ex-Situ program, 37 of which are still alive, says Miguel Ángel Simón.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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