A forest ghost: The Eurasian Lynx

Mammal of the Month: Eurasian Lynx

Dan Brown

The Lynx is a near mythical beast, a shadow within the forests, and has always been subject to intensive persecution. Thankfully it is now increasing in Europe and plans are afoot to reintroduce it to the UK. This spring has also seen the opening of the first Lynx hide in Europe!

Not only is it mammal of the month but Lynx is most definitely mammal of the moment.

They are a stunning animal. Sleek with a stumpy ink-dipped tail, some spotted, others plain, long wispy-tipped ears and piercing yellow eyes set in a wizened face. They are very much ghosts of the forest, seemingly impossible to see, the ultimate prize for the mammal watcher, unlike their Iberian counterparts which are comparatively easy to see given some time in the right place.

A large male Lynx pads along a forest track

A large male Lynx pads along a forest track

and a Roe Deer in the same location for scale

and a Roe Deer in the same location for scale

Lynx are a predominantly solitary animal that are mainly active at dawn and dusk, however they can be encountered at any time of day, and can often be comparatively fearless of humans. Home ranges vary between 20km2 and 2000km2 depending on the habitat. The largest of the Lynx species, Eurasian Lynx is a predator of ungulates especially Roe deer and in Scandinavia semi-domesticated Reindeer.

Satellite-collared female Lynx in Norway

Satellite-collared female Lynx in Norway

Closely followed by its cub. This animal will likely remain with the female for only another month or two

Closely followed by its cub. This animal will likely remain with the female for only another month or two

In Europe the Lynx is distributed in the more remote or mountainous areas such as the Alps (following reintroductions), Carpathians, Balkans, and throughout Scandinavia though it is generally scarce, suffering at the hands of hunters and other human pressures. Formally they were distributed right across the Western Palearctic and hopefully they may once again be.

Commercial hunting interests serve to maintain populations in countries such as Norway and Sweden but the populations there could still be larger, and the emphasis is very much on protecting populations for sport rather than conservation. Due to this interest there are a number of good websites set up for Lynx, Brown Bear and Wolf including Skandobs. This is well worth a look if you like pics of Lynx!

This stunning animal was followed by two more a few hours later

This stunning animal was followed by two more a few hours later

It has been immensely satisfying for us at BiOME Consulting to work on Lynx over the last few years and start to get a feel for what different animals do. Over the last eight months we have monitored a site in Norway which has revealed the presence of up to four Lynx including a satellite tagged female and cub as well as a large male, whilst our long-term studies in Estonia have shown the regular movements of Lynx across our land. After three years of trialling and testing different attractants to draw Lynx in, we have now opened the first Lynx watching hide in Europe (for more info see BiOME Nature). Whilst its not a guaranteed it definitely offers the highest chance of seeing Lynx (as well as plenty of other mammals and birds), anywhere in Europe. Estonia probably ranks as the best country in the world to see Lynx whether from the hide or by night driving the forest and meadow tracks and densities here have been shown to be very high. Our first in-field experience occurred in Estonia where one proved how fear-less they are as it remained sitting for 30 minutes only 200m away from us and proceeded to clean itself before slinking off into the night totally unperturbed by our presence.

A view from the new Lynx hide in Estonia showing the typical meadow and woodland habitats favoured by them here

A view from the new Lynx hide in Estonia showing the typical meadow and woodland habitats favoured by them here

It’s been 1300 years since the last Lynx prowled the British countryside but now there’s a movement to bring these stunning animals back. The Lynx UK Trust has proposed the reintroduction of Lynx into Britain a move that, so far, seems to widely supported. There are the usual objections from farmers and some folk who seem to think that the introduction will ‘medel’ with the environment, but as far as I can see it will do nothing but good. Lynx are not a major threat to livestock preferring to hunt within forestry thus controlling deer numbers. In fact its likely that more sheep are knocked down by cars or killed by dogs every year than will be taken by Lynx but there isn’t a call to ban either of those! They also predate Foxes too which is far from a bad thing in many areas, and will hopefully help get them on-side with land managers. The presence of these keystone predators in the ecosystem is critical and was illustrated nicely in Yellowstone, USA, where the reintroduction of Wolf packs caused a complete change in the environment by reducing the number of large grazers as well as mid-sized predators creating an all together healthier ecosystem from freshwater streams and grazing meadows right through to forests and mountains.

For more information on the proposed re-introduction see The Lynx UK Trust.

Eurasian Lynx - one of the   most elusive European mammals

Eurasian Lynx – one of the most elusive European mammals

 

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