THE world’s most endangered cat, the Iberian lynx, may be making a comeback. Five Iberian lynx were born in captivity in Andalusia in southern Spain over two days last week, reviving hopes that Spain’s increasingly successful lynx breeding program may pull the species back from extinction.

A further three captive lynx are pregnant, prompting lynx biologists to claim that this year could mark the species’ turning point.

Three Iberian lynx were first born in captivity in 2005 to Saliega, who gave birth to two more cubs last Friday.

One of Saliega’s 2005 cubs was killed in a fight with her brother, so biologists have increased monitoring of the newborn cubs to ensure that none dies unnecessarily.

“They are under surveillance 24 hours a day,” said Astrid Vargas, director of El Acebuche breeding centre in the Andalusian province of Huelva.

If such trends of a rising lynx birth rate continue, Spain’s Environment Ministry hopes to begin releasing the cats into the wild from 2010.

Populations of the Iberian lynx in Spain have fallen from 100,000 at the start of the 20th century to just 150 at the end of 2006. The animal, which once ranged across Europe, is confined in the wild to two small, fragmented communities close to Spain’s border with Portugal.