5 Cool Cats in the Wild


Iberian Lynx

Iberian lynx
The Iberian Lynx is the most threatened wild feline in the planet because of habitat loss and food shortages. Fotografia de paisajes y naturaleza/Getty Images

If you're a fan of "Ferdinand" (the book, not the movie), we regret to inform you that wine corks don't grow on trees, they're made from the bark of cork trees. In southern Spain and Portugal there are ancient cork forests, which were once home to roughly 100,000 wild lynx (Lynx pardinus). Then the 20th century came along and wrecked everything.

First, the usual villain — habitat reduction due to human activity. But the really serious problem arose in the 1950s when a French bacteriologist released a virus called Myxomatosis on his estate. The virus didn't kill lynx, it killed rabbits. And it killed them with frightening efficiency. Myxomatosis quickly spread through Europe and nearly wiped out the entire continent's rabbit population. This was extremely bad news for the Iberian lynx, which had specialized in hunting rabbits for so long it was unable to survive without them. By the beginning of the 21st century, fewer than a hundred of them were left.

Then a group of dedicated activists and scientists decided to turn things around. They began breeding Iberian lynx in captivity and releasing them back into the wild. The program is considered to be one of the most successful in the world and there are now an estimated 500 lynx roaming those cork forests once again.