Iberian Lynx Cat: A Wild Endangered Species Saved From Extinction?

By Pierre Dumont , Mar 25, 2013 01:51 PM EDT

With all the talk now about extinct and endangered species, scientists claim to have found a new way of preventing the world's most endangered wild cat, the Iberian lynx, from going the way of the Woolly Mammoth.

The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is a rare feline species weighing between 22 and 29 pounds with a height of between 34 and 39 inches, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. It is generally characterized by its heavy spots, long legs and short tails that end with a black tip. The Iberian lynx is also known by its signature "beard" and distinctive black ear tufts. Iberian lynxes dwelled in Spain, Portugal and Southern France during the early 19th century. Now only between 84 and 143 of them are thought to exist.

Scientists are hoping to change that, however, through a technique involving the removal of ovaries from a female Iberian lynx, and the resulting preservation of embryos. Conservationists hope that they will be able to implant the fertilized eggs into a surrogate mother belonging to a similar species, such as the Eurasian lynx.

In Silves, Portugal, conservationists tried to breed an Iberian lynx named Azahar, but found that the animal had trouble giving birth, resulting in the need for a Caesarean section. As a result, the scientists determined that they should not attempt breeding with the animal, and subsequently the lynx's ovaries were removed.

Following surgery, however, they were able to obtain embryos from the lynx through a process similar to one used on domestic cats. Because the embryos had to be flushed out of the oviducts instead of the uterus, the team found that embryos in Iberian lynxes develop more slowly than those in domestic cats. The findings ultimately led to the decision to attempt fertilization through a surrogate mother.

In 2003, scientists successfully brought back an extinct Pyrenean ibex through cloning via a frozen tissue sample. The animal, however, only lived for a few minutes after birth. The issue of bringing back extinct creatures has been a hot topic lately, with the long gone Woolly Mammoth gracing the cover of National Geographic. Much debate is centering around the ethical implications of bringing back an extinct species like the Woolly Mammoth, given that the environment they survived in doesn't really exist anymore.

The issue was further debated on March 15 at the TEDxDeExtinction forum, a conference hosted by National Geographic in Washington, D.C., where researchers gathered to discuss the issue. For more information on the debate over reviving creatures like the Mammoth, and the methods used to do so, click here.

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