SEVILLE, Spain, July 22 (UPI) -- Climate change could drive the Iberian lynx, the world's most threatened cat, to extinction within 50 years, conservationists say.
With only an estimated 250 individuals surviving in the wild, the decline of the Iberian lynx has primarily been blamed on human hunting of its main prey, the European rabbit.
But climate change could be the final straw, Damien Fordham from the University of Adelaide in Australia, who took part in the study, said.
"We show that climate change could lead to a rapid and severe decrease in lynx abundance in coming decades, and probably lead to its extinction in the wild within 50 years," he said.
"Current management efforts could be futile if they don't take into account the combined effects of climate change, land use and prey abundance on population dynamics of the Iberian lynx."
Although lynx numbers have increased in the last 10 years in response to intensive conservation efforts, ongoing conservation strategies could buy just a few decades before the species goes extinct, the researchers said.
"Habitat in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, where the two existing populations of lynx persist, is most likely to be inhospitable to lynx by the middle of this century," Spanish Research Council scientist Alejandro Rodriguez said.