Less than two decades ago, the Iberian lynx has clawed its way back from the brink of extinction.

With just 94 individuals left of the species in 2002, the latest survey found the species to grow to 855 this year thanks to multiple conservation efforts across Spain and Portugal. Experts predicted that if the species continues to increase in numbers, they could be out of the danger of extinction by 2040.

Using camera-traps in a 2019 census showed that 80 percent of the lynx population can be found in Spain. 311 kittens were born in the peninsula last year alone, with 188 females on their reproductive age.

The Iberian lynx was hunted down until the mid-1970’s after government said the creatures were vermins.

“When we started back in 2000, we don’t even know how many lynxes are left,” Miguel Ángel Simón, a biologist who spent 22 years conserving and building up lynx numbers before retiring last year, told The Guardian in an interview. “We found out from the first census that there were 94 and we thought that they were going to disappear. We just didn’t know if there was any way to save them – they were right on the edge and in critical danger of extinction. Back then, they were the most endangered felines in the world. Our first aim was just to stop them becoming extinct.”

They led a series of project coordinated with the Andalucian government with other Spanish regions, Portuguese authorities and conservation NGOs. Lynxes were introduced to other areas and those who hurt the animal were arrested and penalized

“Today, the situation is pretty good and I think we can be optimistic and fairly calm because we haven’t just recovered the population in Andalucía, we’ve also built populations in Portugal – where the lynx was extinct – and in Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha,” says Simón.