Things looking up for endangered Iberian Lynx

At one point, there were fewer than 100 of the cats roaming the wild (Reuters)
At one point, there were fewer than 100 of the cats roaming the wild (Reuters)

After an intensive breeding program in Spain, the wild lynx cat could be reintroduced to the United Kingdom over the next few years.

The Iberian Lynx, also known as the Spanish Lynx, has been brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to conservation programs concentrated in Spain.

Now England-based Lynx UK Trust is planning to launch a pilot programme for six adults of breeding-age -- three males and three females -- to be released in an unfenced area. A licence for the release will be sought in July, with the programme taking place over the next five years.

It's been 1300 years since Britain's lynxes died out, and for a while it looked as though the entire species may go the same way.

Ten years ago, the felines' situation was so dire the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) predicted they would die out within a few decades if nothing was done to save them.

At one point, there were fewer than 100 of the cats roaming the wild.

But since then the species has quadrupled. The largest population, located on the Iberian peninsula in southern Spain, had more than 400 counted late last year.

The big cats, with large paws, short tails and tufty ears, are elusive and solitary, so humans aren't likely to be at risk when they're brought back to the UK.

But livestock may be.

While the Iberian lynx mostly eat rabbits, there are suggestions in some regions they have developed a taste for sheep.

Chief executive of the UK's National Sheep Association, Phil Stocker, says the animals tend to hunt in an area around 200-250m around woodland.

"And there is an awful lot of grassland grazed by sheep surrounding woodland," he told the BBC.

But Dr Paul O'Donoghue says there's not much to worry about -- in fact, with the Iberian lynx focusing on rabbits and deer, they could prove beneficial by reducing pests and controlling the populations of the roe and muntjac deer.

Despite the work of conservation programs, the Iberian lynx remains categorised as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

And it's down to the continued work of conservation programmes, such as the potential British reintroduction program, to keep the population climbing, IUCN says.