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Report observation

Completed projects

Luchs-Gems Projekt 2015-2018

Impact of lynx predation and hunting on chamois 

A chamois stands in the forest and looks directly into the camera
A chamois is pictured by a camera trap installed for monitoring lynx. © KORA

Beside the roe deer, the chamois is the most important prey species of lynx in Switzerland. In the frame of the North-western Alps Project III we detected that lynx predation is particularly concentrated on chamois fawns in summer and spring. In parts of Switzerland and the adjoining countries, chamois populations seem to have strongly declined in the last years. The exact causes of these observed decreases are, however, largely unknown. Unfavourable climatic conditions, disturbance through leisure activities, a too high hunting pressure, lynx predation or competition with other species (e. g. red deer) are mentioned as possible factors. In regions where the lynx is present and the chamois is hunted at the same time, the question arises, which impact both of these factors have on the development of the chamois population.

Goal(s)

The aim of our project was to assess the impact of lynx predation and human hunting on chamois populations and compare it to other factors (e. g. winter mortality). The canton of Bern served as a case study. The results, however, should also be relevant for other regions.

Methods

A lynx with a transmitter collar feeding on a killed chamois
Lynx SELO feeding on a chamois. © KORA

To answer our research questions we chose three different approaches:

1) In the frame of a field study, lynx were radio collared in the Bernese Oberland between 2016 and 2018, in order to find as many of their killed prey animals as possible. At the same time, different chamois groups were observed in the same study area several times a year to estimate their annual growth rate. Furthermore, data on other mortality factors of chamois (e. g. disease, winter) and human caused factors (e. g. hunting, disturbance) were collected.

2) Data already available from hunting statistics and lynx monitoring were compiled. Based on this data, chamois population sizes in different wildlife management areas of the canton of Bern were reconstructed and compared with other regions (e. g. cantons without lynx presence). In this way, the long-term impact of lynx, hunting and other factors (e. g. climate) on chamois population dynamics could be estimated retrospectively.

3) With the help of theoretical population models, management scenarios can be simulated under different objectives and with different assumptions. These models can serve as a basis for decision-making, in order to optimise hunting management in areas of lynx presence, if needed.

Results and publications

The results of the project were published in the following report:

Project Information

The lynx-chamois project was conducted parallel to the genetic lynx project and in agreement with the involved cantons and the local game wardens. The lynx part of the project was run by KORA and financed by a private foundation. The chamois part of the project was run by Dr. Christian Willisch and supported by the hunting inspectorate of the canton Bern, the Stotzer-Kästli-Foundation and the Zigerli-Hegi-Foundation.

Project duration: 2015-2018

Study area: North-western Alps

Projekt partners:

  • Dr. Christian Willisch, FIWI, University of Bern
  • Hunting inspectorate/game wardens canton Bern
  • University of Basel

Contact KORA: Dr. Kristina Vogt

Luchsforschung 1983-2015

Location of the different study areas in the different project stages of the lynx research in Switzerland until 2015 (Figure taken from Breitenmoser & Breitenmoser-Würsten 2008).

The largest part of the research in the beginning of KORA was focused on the lynx, which was reintroduced in the Alps in 1971 and in the Jura in 1974. The research and monitoring of the developing population started with the radio-collaring of the first two lynx in March 1983 in the Bernese Oberland. Radio telemetry opened a new dimension in the wild animal research, especially for such elusive and rare animals as the lynx.

From 1983–2015 we have observed lynx in different parts of Switzerland and under different ecological situations. We have followed over one hundred lynx for some parts of their life by radio telemetry. The lynx research in Switzerland up to 2015 can be divided into six different projects with different questions:

1) 1983-88 North-western Alps I 2) 1985-88 Valais 3) 1988-98 Jura 4) 1997-2001 North-western Alps II 5) 2001-2009 North-eastern Switzerland LUNO 6) 2012-2015 North-western Alps III

Central Switzerland and North-western Alps I 1983-1988

The first major telemetry study of the Eurasian lynx delivered pioneering results in regard to its spatial and social structure and prey selection from a total of 11 lynx. At this time the lynx and prey species populations were stable and the influence of the lynx on its prey species was low.

Valais 1985–88

In the Valais, six lynx were radio collared between 1985 and 1988 as a lynx population began dispersing into this region. The government authority claimed a rapid decrease in roe deer and chamois. Haller (1992) documented a high hunting pressure on both species by the lynx in the Turtmanntal. The roe deer even disappeared for a while. This situation was very different from the previous results in the North-western Alps.

Comparison of the distribution of roe deer and chamois lynx kills in the established lynx area in the North-western Alps (above) and in the Valais (below) (Figure taken from Breitenmoser & Breitenmoser-Würsten 2008).

Jura 1988–1998

Research on the reintroduced population in the Jura started 14 years after the releases, and went on until 1998. The first long-term study of 29 lynx allowed us to collect data in regards to the stability of spatial and social structures, demography and the dispersal of young animals. The large data set allowed for the calculation of the first habitat models. The research on prey selection showed seasonal preferences for different prey species categories. However, the influence on the prey species remained constant over the years.

North-western Alps II 1997–2001

From the mid-1990s onwards, depredation of livestock by lynx rose, and observations of lynx increased significantly. During the study period we captured and radio collared 44 lynx. We found a considerably higher density than in the 1980s. The influence on prey species populations was higher than previously observed. The roe deer population was under high pressure due to heavy hunting and a series of harsh winters. Beside spatial and social structure, dispersal and demography, the research of livestock depredation was in the foreground. In 1998, we began using camera traps to estimate the population with the capture-recapture method.

LUNO – Lynx translocation North-eastern Switzerland 2001-2009

A lynx is released from a transport crate
Release of WERO © Andreas Ryser

As a result of the tense situation concerning the lynx in the north-western Alps at the end of the 1990s, the Swiss Federation developed a new management concept for the management of lynx. The concept allows the removal of damage causing individuals and includes the reduction of high lynx densities through translocations and lethal removal. After a positive statement from the cantonal administration in November 2000, the parliament of St. Gallen approved the postulate Trionfini for the reintroduction of the lynx in the canton St. Gallen. Thereafter, the federal office for the environment and the five cantons Zurich, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden started the project “Lynx translocation North-eastern Switzerland LUNO”. The lynx originated from the north-western Alps and the Jura. KORA and FIWI were responsible for the lynx captures, the translocations and the monitoring of the lynx after their release in northeastern Switzerland. The observation of the released individuals by radio telemetry allowed for studying the establishment of a spatial structure, as well as prey selection and hunting behaviour. The monitoring of the small lynx population in north-eastern Switzerland became part of the general lynx monitoring for the whole of Switzerland in 2009. We conduct a deterministic camera trap monitoring session every three to four years.

Methods

Capture and releases

Between 2001 and 2008 seven lynx from the Northwest Alps and five from the Jura were translocated to north-eastern Switzerland. All animals were put in quarantine after the capture. Collaborators from the Centre for Fish and Wild Animal Medicine looked after the lynx during the quarantine. Before the release they were again medically examined and radio collared.

Results and publications

Location of lynx home ranges in Northeast Switzerland a few months before the release. Red = females, blue = males. © KORA

Home ranges and dispersal

Within a few months the translocated lynx settled into neighbouring home ranges which generally corresponds to the spatial structure of an established lynx population. A female, however, crossed the Lindth plain southwest and settled in the cantons Glarus and Schwyz. A male connected to the lynx population in north-eastern Switzerland only after one year of wandering. He had at one point gone into the city of Zurich and stayed for four months on the Zurich hill directly by the city. The average home range of a female was 100 km², that of males 172 km².

Prey species

During the monitoring stage of the lynx, we could document thanks to radio telemetry 206 prey species: 150 roe deer (73%) and 45 chamois (22%). Occasionally killed species were fox (4), European hare (5) and marmots (2). Opportunistically found lynx kills confirmed by KORA or the game wardens were: 127 roe deer, 17 chamois, one European hare and one fox, as well as one marmot and two domestic goats. Eleven rabbits and two guinea pigs were killed by two orphaned young lynx which tried to escape starvation by killing easy prey close to humans. At least one of these young survived the winter but was run over in the following spring.

Reproduction

A lynx sits in the forest with her two cubs.
NURA with her two young above Amden SG 2005. © Andreas Ryser

Between the first reproduction in the translocation area in 2002 and the end of the systematic camera trap monitoring in the winter 2011/2012, we observed 16 litters with at least 31 young. Of these only 11 animals were still alive at the end of April 2012. We lack data from the other 20 lynx born in north-eastern Switzerland. At least one subadult lynx dispersed from the compartment and settled 200 km south in the Italian Parco Naturale Adamello Brenta. Another dispersing subadult was run over in Landquart (canton Grisons) in 2008. Three females born in north-eastern Switzerland as well as two males have already reproduced again. Of the 12 translocated lynx from the north-western Alps and the Jura, at least four females had kittens (from three males). One subadult male lynx dispersed in 2011/12 from the Jura through the canton Thurgau, along the western shores of Lake Constance, into the Rhine Valley and thus into the lynx population of north-eastern Switzerland.

Fate of the translocated lynx

Of the 12 translocated lynx we know the fate of four animals: ALMA and possibly NOIA still live in north-eastern Switzerland, VINO died in 2003, AYLA was run over in 2004 and WERO was found dead in 2010. The other seven lynx disappeared with no evidence: AURA, BAYA, ROCO and ODIN were not recorded again after the failure of the collars; TURO, NURA and AIKA were still pictured for three, four and six years respectively, after losing their collars.

Evaluation of the translocation

A young lynx walks through the forest.
Young lynx pictured in February 2012. It is a grandchild of the translocated female lynx ALMA from the Jura. © KORA

The fact that during the camera trap monitoring of 2012, 12 years after the start of the project, we recorded 10 independent lynx and 4 young lynx (from two females), indicates a sign for optimism. A new population core has been founded. However, the population of north-eastern Switzerland is still small and even a single loss could have a high impact on the population development. Therefore, the long-term perspective of the population in north-eastern Switzerland also depends on population development in the adjacent regions. The observation of a young male lynx which dispersed from the Bernese Jura to north-eastern Switzerland, as well as at least two young lynx which appeared in the canton Grisons, illustrate this dependence.

The project LUNO should therefore also be seen in an international context. In the last ten years the lynx could only considerably expand its range in the area of north-eastern Switzerland. The LUNO population can be a stepping stone in the direction towards the eastern Alps, however evidence of dispersal in this direction is still missing.

Although the project LUNO as a reintroduction is a moderate project with few animals, it is as a management and species conservation project in regard to the lynx situation in Switzerland and the Alps very valuable. In this regard, repeated small and spatially focused reintroductions will be critical for the future of the lynx in the Alpine region.

More information on the results and conclusions can be found in the following two reports:

  • Ryser A., von Wattenwyl K., Ryser-Degiorgis M.-P., Willisch Ch., Zimmermann F. & Breitenmoser U. 2004. Luchsumsiedlung Nordostschweiz 2001-2003. Schlussbericht Modul Luchs des Projektes LUNO. KORA Bericht Nr. 22, 59 pp.
  • Robin K. & Nigg H. 2005. Luchsumsiedlung Nordostschweiz LUNO. Bericht über die Periode 2001 bis 2003. Schriftenreihe Umwelt Nr. 377. Bundesamt für Umwelt, Wald und Landschaft, Bern; 53 S.

North-western Alps III 2012-2015

Conservation and management of the lynx population in the north-western Alps

Neighbouring lynx in the Simmental 2011. © KORA

The lynx population in the Northwest Alps has evolved after the lynx reintroductions from the Slovakian Carpathian Mountains in the cantons of Obwalden and Vaud in the early 1970’s. Until now the Bernese Oberland and the adjoining pre-alps of the cantons Fribourg and Vaud host the most important lynx occurrence across the entire Alpine arc. Although protected by law, the lynx is still subject to controversy with hunters on the impact of lynx on the populations of their prey species. Such controversy hinders the establishment of a population covering the entire Alps. Furthermore, studies have revealed that the lynx population in the Northwest Alps is neither large nor genetically diverse enough to be able to survive long term. The genetic basis of the animals with which 40 years ago the Northwest Alpine population was founded is too small. With around 50 resident animals in the compartment VI North-western Alps, based on the high inbreeding coefficient, the effective population size is estimated at only 20 individuals. Until now, indications of a real inbreeding depression are missing, but the data base of the last field studies in 2001 are weak. As soon as a – desirable for biological reasons – increase in the population becomes apparent, the conflict arises, namely with hunters on the tolerable number of lynx.

Consequently, KORA wanted to study the genetic and veterinary status of the lynx population in the north-western Alps for the third time (after the project phases 1983–86 and 1998–2001). KORA collaborated with the roe deer project of the University of Zurich, which had radio collared roe deer in the study area, to study the impact of lynx on its prey. KORA also worked in cooperation with a project at the University of Basel, which studied the olfactory communication in Eurasian lynx in the north-western Alps (SMEL), and offered additional results on the social behaviour of lynx.

Goal(s)

The project aimed to contribute to the conservation of the population, by researching the following aspects and applying the newest methods:

  • Demographic, genetic and veterinary status
  • Influence of the lynx on the roe deer population
  • Spatial-temporal partitioning of the habitat by means of scent marks
  • Communication of different stakeholders (e.g. conservationist, hunters) with each other.

Methods

KORA applied an interdisciplinary approach and modern field and laboratory methods: by means of GPS-GSM telemetry, camera traps and video traps, KORA studied the spatial distribution of the lynx and their behaviour. Genetic samples were collected to determine the degree of relationship between the lynx as well as to assess their general health status and the inbreeding coefficient of the population.

Results and publications

Results of the project were published among others in the following publications:

Project Information

Project duration: 2012-2015

Study area: North-western Alps

Projekt partners:

  • Roe deer project in the Simmental of the University of Zurich
  • Project SMEL of the University of Basel & KORA

Sponsors:

  • Haldimann-Stiftung
  • Stotzer-Kästli Stiftung
  • Zürcher Tierschutz
  • Temperatio-Stiftung
  • Karl Mayer Stiftung
  • Stiftung Ormella

Contact KORA: Dr. Kristina Vogt

SMEL 2011-2015

Scent-marking behaviour of Eurasian lynx in the North-western Swiss Alps

A lynx stands in front of a rock face and marks it with its urine.
Lynx maintain their marking sites frequently by placing new markings. Camera trap image, Bernese Oberland, 2011. © KORA

Solitary felids occupy large stable home ranges exclusive of individuals of the same sex, but overlapping with mates. Individuals other than females and their dependent offspring have little direct contact. Scent-marking seems to be the most important method for exchanging information. The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is a suitable model for research on social and spatial organization of wild felids and olfactory communication by means of urine marks. A lynx population consists of resident males and resident females (mates or neighbours), subadult floaters coming from outside the population, and juvenile or subadult offspring of the mates. Providing and receiving information about social, sexual and physiological status of nearby individuals is essential for all members of a lynx population. However, no in situ study has yet investigated if scent marking is significant for maintaining the socio-spatial system of the species.

Understanding the basic functions of animal populations in a real world is also relevant for their conservation and management. Eurasian lynx live at low densities, but their numeric response to changing prey availability can be considerable and cause conflicts with humans. The Swiss parliament and government allow for eased management interventions in large carnivore populations. The effects of such measures on the socio-spatial structure of the lynx population are, however, not understood. Although we have observed considerable population fluctuations, the spatial expansion of the population is very limited. This is most likely a consequence of mortality caused by humans, the (natural) fragmentation of the landscape, but also of the specific dispersal pattern and land tenure system of the species. In this respect, understanding the social organisation of lynx and the role of scent-marking will help answer questions relevant for conservation and management of this protected species.

Goal(s)

Three deer stand around a woodpile in the forest and smell it.
Three roe deer inspecting a lynx marking site. Camera trap image, Bernese Oberland, 2011. © KORA

The aim of this study in cooperation with the University of Basel was to find out how scent-marking influences the spatial distribution and reproductive behaviour of Eurasian lynx within the population. We also investigated how prey animals react to lynx scent-marks. Furthermore, we identified and quantified the chemical compounds contained in lynx urine and tested in zoos how lynx respond to scent marks.

Methods

We used an interdisciplinary approach, applying modern field and lab techniques: GPS-GSM telemetry and automatic cameras to quantify spatial distribution and behaviour in the field, as well as gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to identify and quantify urine content from collected samples.

Results and publications

The results of this study were published in the following publications:

Night shot of a lynx marking a wood pile with its urine.
A lynx marking a pile of wood. © KORA

Project Information

Projekt duration: 2011-2015

Study area: North-western Alps

Projekt partners:

  • Roe deer project in the Simmental of the University of Zurich
  • University of Basel

Sponsors:

  • Janggen-Pöhn-Stiftung
  • Basler Stiftung für Experimentelle Zoologie
  • Rockethub Crowdfunding Projekt
  • Basler Stiftung für biologische Forschung

Contact KORA: Dr. Kristina Vogt

Equipment partner:

TRANSA 

SCOPES 2010-2012

Status, ecology and land tenure system of the critically endangered Balkan lynx

A lynx lies hidden behind the trees in the forest
Sighting of “Marko” © MES/SCOPES, SNF

The research project “Status, ecology and land tenure system of the critically endangered Balkan lynx” in the frame of SCOPES (Scientific co-operation between Eastern Europe and Switzerland) was the scientific part of the Balkan lynx program from 2010–2012.

The project was a cooperation of researchers from the universities of Bern, Skopje (North Macedonia) and Tirana (Albania). It generated the biological and ecological base knowledge on three specific subjects for the conservation project:

  • Spatial and social system and habitat preferences of the Balkan lynx.
  • Feeding ecology of the Balkan lynx and recommendations for the sustainable management of prey species.
  • Training of students in wildlife research and scientific monitoring in both countries.

Methods

Methods used in the field were GPS-GSM-telemetry for the observation of the lynx, and camera trap monitoring for capture-recapture estimates (lynx) and “occupancy”-analyses (prey species).

An anaesthetised lynx lies on a blanket on the ground and is examined by the research team.
Capture of the male lynx “Marko” in Mavrovo National Park, North Macedonia, together with local rangers.

Results and publications

Three lynx were equipped with GPS-GSM radio collars in the area of Mavrovo National Park in western North Macedonia. Prey found by the aid of telemetry consisted mostly of roe deer, followed by chamois and some European hares. Home ranges were found to be 300–400 km², which indicates a very low lynx density. This was confirmed from two camera-trapping session in the same area. They resulted in a density estimate of only 0.82 ± 0.29 lynx per 100 km². Camera traps in Albania only succeeded in the third year in capturing lynx in two areas – the Munella mountains and the Shebenik-Jabllanica National Park. The presence of a small population (4–5 individuals) in the Munella mountains was later confirmed in the frame of the Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme . The insufficient data did not allow for estimating prey abundance. We assume however, that roe deer and chamois densities are small as a result of unsustainable management of the populations.

The project was able to show the very small size of the population of the Balkan lynx and that it can only be conserved with concentrated efforts from all partners and institutions.

Further information: article „Rescuing the Balkan lynx“, Projects Magazine, January 2013, pages 62-64, Insight Publishers; and SNF P3 Forschungsdatenbank Projekt 127948  

The project resulted in four master theses:

  • Trajçe A. 2010. Conservation planning for guilds or individual species? The relative perceptions of wolves, bears and lynx among the rural Albanian public. Master thesis, University of Oxford, UK, 86 pp.
  • Tesho L. 2011. Qëndrueshëmeria e gjuetisë dhe menaxhimi I kafshëve të egra në Shqipëri [Sustainable hunting and management of wildlife in Albania]. Master thesis, University of Elbasan, Albania, 52 pp.
  • Melovski D. 2012. Status and distribution of the Balkan Lynx (Lynx lynx martinoi MIRIC, 1978) and its prey. Master thesis, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Montenegro, 82 pp.
  • Ivanov G. 2014. Spatially explicit model for habitat suitability and potential distribution of the critically endangered Balkan lynx (Lynx lynx balcanicus Bures 1941). Master thesis, Institute of Biology, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, Macedonia, 73 pp.

Project Information

Projekt duration: 2010-2012

Location: western North Macedonia and eastern and northern Albania

Project partners:

  • Institute of Veterinary Virology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern, Switzerland
  • Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of Skopje, North Macedonia
  • Macedonian Ecological Society (MES)
  • Faculty of Biotechnology and Food, Agricultural University of Tirana, Albania
  • Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA)
Panorama picture of the Mavrovo National Park.
In Mavrovo National Park, North Macedonia © MES

Sponsors: Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) together with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in the frame of SCOPES (Scientific co-operation between Eastern Europe and Switzerland)

Contact University of Bern and KORA: Urs Breitenmoser, Manuela von Arx

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