Big yellow eyes wide with fright and their pointed ears attentive to every sound in their enclosure, tiny Aura and Saliega almost seem to realize the trouble they are in. For these two muddy brown bundles of fur, each little bigger than a kitten and curled up next to one another for protection, are Iberian Lynxes - the world's most endangered feline. Nestling on a tree stump in a special enclosure at Jerez de la Frontera zoo in southern Spain, the two-month-old baby females are the focus of an emergency breeding plan to prevent the Iberian Lynx from becoming the first feline species to become extinct since prehistoric times. “When we brought them here a month ago they weighed about 600 grams each and were covered in ticks,” said Maribel Molla, the veterinary surgeon raising the cubs. “Since then we fed them on milk, diced rabbit and dead rats and they weigh over two kilos (4.5 lb).” Until recently it was believed that some 1'000 Iberian lynxes - distant cousins of the American bobcat prowled the grasslands of southern and central Spain and Portugal. Only in the last year have more rigorous tests shown how rare they really are. It is now thought that only 150 to 200 survive, with just two populations large enough to sustain themselves - in the scrubland of the Donana national park on Spain's southern coast and in the Sierra Morena mountains 125 miles to the north. “This is such a beautiful animal and so symbolic for Spain,” said Inego Sanchez, the director of Jerez zoo and head of the breeding program. “We are losing the pride of Spanish nature.”


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