A hunter is sentenced to two years and a 114.000€ fine for shooting an Iberian Lynx

A Criminal Court in Spain sentenced a hunter to 2 years and one day in prison for killing an iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), an endangered species protected by national and EU laws, in 2020. The man was found guilty of a wildlife crime and the Court imposed a 114.158€ fine to compensate for the damage caused to the conservation of the species. He was also barred from exercising the right to hunt for a period of 4 years. WWF Spain, partner of the LIFE SWiPE project, welcomes this exemplary ruling for an unjustifiable crime against this iconic species and calls for increased resources against lynx poaching.

The crime took place in 2020 in the Spanish region of Extremadura, one of the areas where the Iberian Lynx was reintroduced with the help of the EU LIFE programme, in a game reserve that is part of the Natura 2000 network. 

The accused, who owns a state in the area, was hunting partridge using a live lure – a legal hunting method in Spain, in which a male partridge is held in a cage to attract other birds. According to the sentence, an iberian lynx approached the cage and the man fired at it, with the intention of killing it. Although the defence lawyer claimed that the accused mistook the lynx for a fox, the feline was 15 meters away and the man had a clear visual of the target, with no scrubs or vegetation in between. 

The lynx, called ‘Querubín’, was one year old and it suffered an immediate death, as the necropsy later revealed. Around 80 projectiles were found in the cranial region, thoracic region, forelimbs “and lesser quantities in the caudal region and hind limbs”, according to the facts included in the sentence. 

Aware of the crime he had just committed, the accused asked an employee to bury the body outside the state. The employee was also tried in the proceeding, and the Court sentenced him to one year and six months in prison for the crime of concealment.

Poaching, the second cause of death for this iconic species

In 2002, there were less than 100 Iberian Lynx left in the world, due to a combination of threats that include the reduction of its main prey -the rabbit- and widespread poaching. But the species has bounced back from the brink of extinction thanks to ambitious conservation efforts, political will, funding from Spanish authorities and the EU LIFE programme and the involvement of the local communities and landowners – 1,365 animals live now in Spain and Portugal, according to last years’ census.

But alongside that recovery, poaching has also returned. It is now the second non-natural cause of death of the species, after roadkills – through radio and GPS tracking data, it is estimated that 5% of lynx are illegally shot, poisoned or trapped. Experts consider that just 30% of those cases are detected, so most crimes against the species are in fact invisible.

These wildlife crimes happen even though the species is closely monitored throughout its range, with special care in the reintroduction areas, such as southern Extremadura, where the judged actions took place. The LIFE Iberlince team in the region suspected something had gone wrong when ‘Querubín’ and her brother stopped showing up in their trail cameras. They alerted Seprona, the Nature Protection Service of the Spanish Guardia Civil, and its officers started an investigation to find the endangered animals.

The crime took place in the Río Ortigas area, where 20 lynx live according to the latest census
(Source: Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge). 

They conducted several interviews in the area, including to the accused employee, who confessed to burying the animal. To find that critical piece of evidence for the prosecution, Seprona involved its dog unit, specialized in the detection of poisons and the fight against wildlife crimes. The lynx carcass was found and identified thanks to the microchip it was carrying, and the investigators were also able to arrest the author of the crime.

An exemplary ruling, but more resources for detection and prosecution are needed

The hunter accused of the death of the protected specimen was aware, according to the sentence, “of the presence on his property of the lynx species and that it is catalogued as endangered and that investments and actions have been carried out by the Junta de Extremadura [the regional Government], with its own funds and those of the European Union, on his land and in the area, with the aim of the recovery of this species”.

The convicted perpetrator must pay the Junta de Extremadura the sum of 114,158 euros for the economic damage caused by the loss of the animal – 64,158 euros as compensation for the loss of the specimen and 50,000 euros for damage to the species and to the Reintroduction Programme. The sentence can be appealed before the Provincial Court of Badajoz.

“Killing a protected animal such as the Iberian lynx, shattering so many efforts and resources dedicated to its conservation and recovery, is a crime that cannot go unpunished”, says Silvia Diaz, LIFE SWiPE project coordinator at WWF-Spain. “We welcome this exemplary ruling and congratulate law enforcement for their thorough investigation. But more resources are needed to increase the detection and prosecution of lynx poaching.”