One of the envisaged beneficial effects of the multi-purpose Cork Initiative is the establishment of a viable breeding population of Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) in Portugal. Although large parts of Portugal originally were Iberian lynx habitat, the lynx is now thought to be extinct in this part of the Iberian peninsula. This critically endangered wild felid is only to be found in the wild in a few patches of land in southwest Andalusia, with a total population of 84 – 143 adults (IUCN Red List, 2008).
The Cork Initiative, with contributions of Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Liga para a Protecção da Natureza (LPN), is trying to raise awareness of the importance of the cork oak for the economy and natural habitat, including wild fauna, pastures and aromatic shrubs in Portugal. Moreover, they run projects to promote the use of a natural cork in bottles of wines.
Cork harvesting is both traditional and 100% sustainable, as the outer bark of the cork oak tree trunk is carefully stripped by hand every 9 — 12 years using specially designed axes and techniques which have been passed on through generations. The trees can be harvested around 15 times over a lifetime, and no chemical techniques are used while processing the cork. So, the only thing to worry about is the transport when considering the enviroment.
Unfortunately, due to decreasing global demand for natural cork farmers are replacing cork oak trees with citrus trees. The evergreen cork oak forests play key roles in soil generation and preservation, and water conservation within the very arid climate of the Mediterranean. These forests ensure therefore the natural biodiversity of the region. For instance, the mammals found in cork oak forests include hares, weasels, wolves, genets, wild boars, deer and a few Iberian lynxes in Spain. It is also the ideal habitat for millions of birds, such as kestrels, little owls, great grey shrikes, black storks, imperial eagles, Spanish imperial eagles, kites, black vultures, and woodpeckers.
FFI believes that within three to four years there will be a breeding population of Iberian lynx in Portugal, due to the conservation efforts like the Cork Initiative. The habitat in Portugal with cork oak trees can support and sustain lynxes, but first the lynx must be enabled to arrive there. The fragmented habitats on both sides of the Portugese-Spanish border should be connected to provide a corridor and a habitat large enough to support a viable population of the Iberian lynx. Survival of the cork oak forests is therefore paramount, and according the Cork Initiative: