MADRID, April 16 (UPI) -- Three Iberian lynx are being released into the wild in Spain from a captive breeding program in an effort to save the endangered species, researchers said.
As the cats were released they were a little confused at first, unsure of their new surroundings, researchers said, but bounded away ready to explore their new surroundings.
The lynx, once widespread across Spain and Portugal, were down to just 150 by 2005, earning it the unenviable title of being the most threatened of the world's 36 wild cat species.
"The situation was really dramatic: there were only two populations left in the wild," Miguel Simon, director of the Lynx Life project, told the BBC.
"In order to preserve this species, we had to create a captive population in case the wild population became extinct."
In the past five years two breeding centers, both in Andalusia, have bred around 100 cats in captivity.
Conservationists have begun a rescue plan of reintroducing captive-born lynx into the wild.
"The Iberian lynx is a key species in the Mediterranean ecosystem. It is a top predator, and if we preserve this species, we are preserving the whole ecosystem," Simon said.
"It is our heritage, and we have to preserve it for future generations."
A total of 15 releases have taken place this year, and if new populations are established more and more of the captive cats will be introduced to the wild, researchers said.