Already known as "the world's most endangered feline species," the Iberian lynx is headed to extinction in the wild within the next five decades, an international team of researchers warn in the journal Nature Climate Change.
"Anticipated climate change will rapidly and severely decrease lynx abundance and probably lead to its extinction in the wild within 50 years, even with strong global efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions," they write.
The problem, they say, is that climate change has reduced the availability of the cats' "main prey, the European rabbit," CBS News reports.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Iberian lynx could become "the first cat species to become extinct for at least 2,000 years. ... In the early 19th century the Iberian lynx was found in Spain, Portugal and Southern France. It has steadily declined since then, falling to the dangerously low levels today."
The researchers estimate there are "only an estimated 250 individuals surviving in the wild." That's up slightly from a decade ago thanks to "habitat management, reduction of destructive human activity and, more recently, reintroducing the lynx into suitable areas where they have lived in recent history."
But, they warn, "ongoing conservation strategies could buy just a few decades before the species goes extinct."
"The species is extremely vulnerable to shifts in habitat quality or to changes in the abundance of their rabbit prey due to climate change," says Professor Barry Brook, Chair of Climate Science at the University of Adelaide, in a statement released by the researchers.
What do the researchers recommend? They say: "A carefully planned reintroduction program, accounting for the effects of climate change, prey abundance and habitat connectivity, could avert extinction of the lynx this century." They also suggest putting some of the cats in "higher latitude and higher altitude regions on the Iberian Peninsula" where the climate should be more hospitable.