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The Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx)

The lynx is one of the most widespread medium sized cats of which there are four recorded species, the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis) and the Bobcat (Lynx rufus). Due to the vast geographical distribution of the Eurasian lynx it shows a huge phenotypic variation resulting in 11 subspecies, but the precise classification of these subspecies is very much subject to debate and relates to the region in which they are found and the small morphological differences each possess. The species found in the Carpathians is considered as a one of these subspecies, Lynx lynx carpathicus. The Eurasian lynx inhabits mountainous and forested regions from Central Asia and Russiathrough to Europe historically, unfortunately the populations in Western Europe has been greatly reduced or completely eradicated due to hunting. Although listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List with populations considered stable, there are concerns about the future of the Eurasian lynx due to increasing human populations, habitat fragmentation, continued hunting and hugely ranging population estimates.

Characteristics

The Eurasian lynx is the largest felid found in Europe and indeed is the largest of the subspecies and third largest predator in Europe behind the brown bear and grey wolf. The lynx has a short body, long legs and large paws which come into their own during the winter months acting as perfect snowshoes. The feet have long, sharp and retractable claws which are perfect for hunting; they actually have five toes on the front feet and only four on the hind. The most notable and well known characteristics of the lynx are its large triangular ears with large black tufts and short black tipped tail. The size of the Eurasian lynx ranges from 70 to 130cm and standing at around 70cm to the shoulder with the Carpathian lynx being around 1m in length and standing between 50 and 65cm to the shoulder. There is pronounced sexual dimorphism in the lynx with the males being much larger and weighing between 18 to 30kg with females being much lighter with an average weight of just under 18kg. The pelt can be highly variable both between and within different regions but is always a combination of general colouration and some degree of spotting. There are three main coat patterns, spotted, striped and unspeckled, with pale creamy white colouration under the neck and belly. The lynx, like many mountain mammals has a winter and a summer coat. The winter coat is much thicker and tends to be a more silvery-grey colour and this is replaced in summer by a thinner reddish-brown coat.

The lynx is a solitary animal with each occupying their own territories, only coming together to breed, although there is some overlap of ranges with typically two females sharing the much larger home range of the male. Territories are marked with gland secretions, urine and occasionally faeces. It is not uncommon for a mother and her daughters having some overlap especially where the densities are much greater. The range of territory sizes for the European lynx are 98-759km2 for females and 180-2780km2 for males with typical night time travel distances within territories of 1-45km, and this is one reason that achieving accurate population estimates are so difficult. Lynx are predominantly crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) or nocturnal with the exception of the rutting season where they can also be active during the day. Outside the rutting season the lynx will spend most of the day sleeping in dense foliage or up trees.

Reproduction

Females reach sexual maturity at around two years of age and males normally breed for the first time at around three years of age. Both sexes are sexually active for many years with females reproducing up to the age of 14 and males at around 16 years of age. The mating season starts around February and lasts through to mid-April, with the female coming intooestrus only once during this time although it lasts between four to seven days with the average being around three days although the female can come into oestrus for a second time of the first litter is lost. The male will accompany with the female for the entire time she is in oestrus and they will mate several times. Gestation usually lasts between 67-74 days after which a litter of 2-3 kittens are born, although litter size can vary from one to five, around late May in secluded dens often under tree roots and lined with feathers, fur and dry grass. At birth the kittens weigh 240-300grams and as with most other mammals are blind and helpless, they first open their eyes at around 10-12 days and begin to each solid food at six to seven weeks when they also start to venture out of the den. The kittens are fully weaned at six months at which time the den is abandoned, but they will remain with their mother until the next breeding season at approximately 10 months and weighing 9-14kg at which time they will disperse. The mortality rates amongst young lynx are high with approximately 50% not reaching adulthood. Whereas there have been sporadic cases of lynx being killed by other predators, the main causes of death are diseases (rabies and parvovirus), road accidents, over-hunting and poaching.

Predator-prey & predator-livestock relationships

Unlike the other three species which predominantly prey on lagomorphs, the Eurasian lynx being much larger, preys on small undulates such as deer, chamois, wild boar and grouse, although they will take small mammals and birds if the opportunity arises or preferred prey is scarce. The lynx does show seasonal variation in prey types with smaller and young prey being taken in late spring and summer months with larger prey being taken during the autumn and winter months. The average meat consumption is 1-2.5kg per day per lynx and it may take several days for a larger prey item to be consumed. The lynx hunts using its exceptional hearing and sight utilising high vantage points such as outcrops or high trees to scan an area. They stalk their prey ambushing it rather than giving chase.

In terms of livestock depredation, the lynx is not considered a threat to livestock with losses being minimal in Romania; this is thanks in part to the traditional husbandry techniques employed in the areas where lynx are most common. The countries that have experienced significant livestock depredation are those where lynx have been re-introduced after substantial periods of absence. In such countries, schemes have been put in place to compensate farmers for the loss of livestock, help in reducing future losses and put across a message that living with large carnivores does not mean financial losses.

Lynx – Human Relationships

The lynx is a relatively unknown species with very few if any myths and/or legends surrounding it compared to other large carnivores in Europe such as the brown bear and grey wolf this only adds to the mysteries that often surround the lynx. A combination of this and the shy, elusive nature of lynx have resulted in considerably less historical data surrounding its distribution and inclusion in human culture. Despite the apparent lower interest of the lynx to the public and media than the larger carnivores found in Europe, to many farmers and hunters the lynx has a similar if not worse reputation than its counterparts, being seen as a ferocious and merciless killer. In Romania, feelings surrounding the lynx fall into one of three very different categories; at one end of the spectrum you have fascination, at the other end complete dislike and somewhere in the middle you have indifference. The lynx is still persecuted and hunted in the more remote countryside where it has been known to take unprotected sheep and is seen as a competitor in the eyes of hunters. Despite all these factors the lynx generally avoids human habitation unless forced to venture into closer proximities due to reductions in prey or harsh winters with deep snow. There are only a handful of cases where a lynx has wounded a human and these animals were injured, captured or rabid (one case in Slovenia), there are no reported incidences of lynx spontaneously attacking humans even when a female is separated from her kittens, they will however attack dogs that approach them. In fact the lynx will actually go out of its way to avoid contact with humans.

The issue of conflict between lynx and hunters is another issue altogether and in areas where the lynx is legally protected efforts need to be made to reach compromises to allow continued protection of this animal. Although evidence suggests that legal hunting does not prevent illegal killings, there is evidence that banning lynx hunting altogether has lead to increases in illegal hunting. Many hunters view the lynx as competition for prized game species and in some cases the lynx itself has become the prize!

Conservation Status

The Carpathians are part of the largest mountain range in Europe covering approximately 209 256km2 with over half (55.2%) in Romania and is home to the largest continuous populations of large carnivores, including the lynx making it the most important population in Europe. The lynx is listed as “least Concern” on the IUCN Red List and although for Romania is listed as a game species in Appendix III of the Bern Convention, it can only be legally hunted by permit, within the hunting season between September and March and within the yearly quota which is currently set at 250 animals, a quota that is rarely reached. Romania is the only country within the Carpathians that the lynx is still allowed to be legally hunted. One of the major problems when it comes to putting together conservation plans for the lynx in Romania is the huge variation in population estimates, with official figures from managers of hunting grounds at around 2600 individuals and unofficial estimates from local experts around 1700 individuals for 2000, this is a difference of a staggering 900 animals! As with many conservation strategies and plans, the focus is on the species as a whole, not necessarily local populations and the lynx is no different. Although the population in the Carpathians is currently considered stable, this can change rapidly and a management plan for the individual countries as well as a whole (especially as the Carpathian population is a continuous one) is needed and with Romania having more than half the lynx population of the Carpathians it has a special responsibility to the population as a whole.

What now?

The major issue concerning the lynx in Romania is actually the lack of reliable and constant data which at present is completely lacking in the region. The permanent distribution of the lynx in Romania has changed very little if at all in over ten years, however we do not possess data from the area and this is in part due to one-off sightings of lynx or chance encounters not being recorded. Very little is known about the basic information of this species in Romania and without this information conservation plans and goals cannot realistically be produced let alone achieved, although the lynx population in Romania is currently considered stable and strong, it is far better to keep it that way than try to recover it should anything happen. The Romanian lynx population provides a healthy stock for not only the entire Carpathian Mountain range but also for much of Europe so it is vital that this population is conserved. The main areas that urgently need addressing are as follows:

Education and Awareness – educating and making adults and children aware of the lynx and its status can only go to help the species.
Public Involvement – possibly one of the most important areas that needs attention, without public involvement any programmes that are implemented cannot be expected to last.
The establishment and management of protected areas – is it not enough just to set aside areas, they need to be carefully managed with respect to the whole ecosystem, not just a single animal such as the lynx.

So what about current and future threats?

The most obvious threat is that of habitat degradation but this is not the only threat with socio-political changes and accelerated development occurring there is the potential for conflicts to arise. But with careful planning, the correct information, clever conservation strategies and the involvement of all parties comprises can be reached. There is a strong feeling that is growing about the importance of the natural world, and increasingly people are looking to enjoy such wildlife rich areas but for this to happen we have to fully and independently research not only the current population but also the positive and negative impacts various activities may have. This project aims to gain significant data about the lynx population in the Eastern Carpathians using camera traps, biologists and trackers and it is hope that the data we collect will help to propose management plans and educational opportunities as well as widespread public involvement in monitoring not only this species but others found in the region.

References

Bego, F. & Zoto, H. 2004: Albania. In: Status and conservation of the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) in Europe in 2001. Ed. by M. von Arx, Ch. Breitenmoser-Würsten, F. Zimmermann and U. Breitenmoser, KORA Bericht No. 19. Breitenmoser, U. &

Breitenmoser-W?rsten, C.H., 1990: Status, Conservation Needs and Re-introduction of the Lynx Lynx lynx in Europe. Council of Europe, Nature and Environment Series, Strasbourg, No. 45: 1-43.

Breitenmoser, U., Mallon, D.P., von Arx, M. & Breitenmoser-Wursten, C. 2008. Lynx lynx. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. . Downloaded on 24 January 2011.

Kratochvil, J. 1968: The Lynx Population in Rumania. In: Kratochvil et al. 1968: Recent distribution of the
Lynx in Europe. Acta sc. Nat. Brno 2 (5/6): 65-70.

Maanen, E. van, G. Predoiu, R. Klaver, M. Soulé, M. Popa, O. Ionescu, R. Jurj, S. Negus, G. Ionescu, W. Altenburg 2006. Safeguarding the Romanian Carpathian Ecological Network. A vision for large carnivores and biodiversity in Eastern Europe.
A&W ecological consultants, Veenwouden, The Netherlands. Icas Wildlife Unit, Brasov,Romania.

Okarma, H., Dovhanych, Y., Find’o, S., Ionsescu, O., Koubek, P. & Szemethy, L. 2000: Status of Carnivores in the Carpathian Ecoregion. Report of the Carpathian Ecoregion Initiative: 1-37.

Salvatori, V., Okarma, H., Ionsescu,O., Dovhanych, Y., Find’o, S. & Boitani, L. 2002: Hunting legislation in the Carpathian Mountains: implications for the conservation and management of large carnivores. Wildlife Biology 8 (1): 3-10.