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Profile

© Laurent Geslin

Characteristics

Eurasian lynx (Lynx Lynx)

  • Appearance: Long-legged cat with grey or reddish fur, brighter on the underside. In Switzerland mostly with distinct black spots or rosettes, but in other regions sometimes with barely marked fur. Roundish head with ear tufts (4 cm) and prominent ruff. Stubby tail (20-25 cm) with black tip.
  • Size: body length 80–110 cm, shoulder height 50–60 cm. Males larger than females.
  • Weight: Adult males 20–26 kg, females 17–20 kg.
  • Life expectancy: up to 20 years in the wild

Status and threats

Legal status:

  • Swiss hunting law (Jagdgesetz, JSG, SR 922.0) (DE, FR, IT): protected
  • Swiss hunting ordinance (Jagdverordnung, JSV, SR 922.01) (DE, FR, IT): regulates the exceptions (see enforcement aid: Swiss lynx concept; DE, FR, IT)
  • Bern Convention: Appendix III (protected animal species)
  • EU Habitats Directive: Annex II (designation of special areas of conservation for these species) and Annex IV (strict protection)
  • CITES: Appendix II
  • Conservation status CH: Critically Endangered; species with very high national priority

Red List of Endangered species:

The biggest threats to the lynx in Switzerland are illegal killings, collisions with vehicles and habitat fragmentation. Additionally, there is the slowly but continually increasing danger of genetic depletion, combined with negative consequences from inbreeding. The latter is based on the small number of founder individuals for the reintroduction as well as the lack of connectivity with neighbouring populations. As population size and genetic constellation currently stands, the long-term survival of the Swiss lynx population is not ensured.

Spatial & Social structure

A lynx marks a woodpile in the snowy forest with its urine.
Lynx leave their markings mostly on prominent structures such as stumps, rocks, or as in the picture above, on woodpiles. Camera trap picture Bernese Oberland, 2011. © KORA

The Eurasian lynx primarily inhabits forests, as its hunting technique requires large amounts of cover vegetation. A master thesis performed at KORA compared the habitat use of lynx in Switzerland today with that of 30 years ago. It found that lynx are more often found in higher areas where they also use open habitats more often. The lynx is also advancing increasingly more onto the Central Plateau, especially south of Lake Neuchâtel where reproductions have been confirmed regularly since 2012. Whether the lynx is able to colonise the Central Plateau will be seen in the future. Whilst the prey abundance is high, the habitat is strongly fragmented and very linear. As such, the habitat is less suited for the establishment of the classical social structure of the lynx. Moreover, there is a higher mortality risk from vehicle collisions.

Lynx are principally nocturnal. They are solitary, except for females with kittens. In their territory they do not tolerate other adult animals of the same sex, but territories of males often overlap one or two territories of female lynx. The home range size of resident lynx varies depending on food availability and the status of the population density. In Switzerland the average home range size of females is 90 km² and 150 km² for males; extreme values may reach 40-400 km². The spatial distribution between individual lynx is maintained by scent marks. Lynx also communicate with calls. Between adult individuals, these can mainly be heard during the mating season. A different call is also used for the communication between females and their kittens.

Reproduction

A young lynx sits in front of a stone ledge. The other cub is hiding under the stone.
These approximately one month old lynx kittens are still completely dependent on their mother. Bernese Oberland, 2011. © Fridolin Zimmermann

During the mating season from March to mid-April lynx can be active during the day more often than usual. It is also during this time that the adults most often use calls for communication. The gestation period lasts for 68-73 days. Between late May and early June, 1-4 (average 2) blind cubs are born in a protected den (cave, fallen tree). The female lynx rears its young alone. Young lynx nurse primarily on milk until the age of about 2 months, at which time they can follow the mother to a kill site. The cubs stay with the mother for roughly ten months before becoming independent and seeking their own territories. Lynx are rather conservative in their dispersal behaviour. Although dispersal distances of up to 300 km have been observed, they are very rare and performed purely by males. As spectacular as these long-distance dispersals are, they have so far never led to the foundation of a new population. It is highly unlikely that a female will end up in such a remote location at the same time. Although lynx disperse over relatively short distances, they are often met with a variety of habitat barriers, e.g. broad valley bottoms with watercourses, settlements, main traffic routes, or high mountains. Lynx struggle to cross such barriers and are exposed to many dangers. Only a quarter of all lynx reach adulthood, and in order to establish themselves in the long term and successfully reproduce, they must first find and occupy a free area.

Diet

A lynx carries a dead roe deer by the throat through the forest.
Lynx with its typical prey, a roe deer. Camera trap picture, 2012 © KORA

The Eurasian lynx is a hunter of small ungulates. A number of radiotelemetry studies in Switzerland found a total of 51.3% of prey items to be roe deer and 28.5% chamois. The rest consisted mainly of European and alpine hares, foxes and marmots. The percentage of prey items in the diet varies not only between areas, but also over time within the same area. Multiple attacks on livestock, particularly sheep and seldom goats, happen locally and usually only when the regional game population is low. The lynx is an ambush predator attacking its prey with the claws of the forepaws and killing it with a bite to the throat. It takes several nights of feeding for an adult lynx to completely consume a roe deer or chamois, typically leaving behind only the skeleton, part of the head, the hide and the digestive tract. An individual adult requires approximately one roe deer or chamois per week or, in other words, about 50 – 60 animals per year.

History in Switzerland

In Switzerland the lynx was extirpated by the end of the 19th Century. The last historic observation of a lynx was made in 1904 at the Simplon Pass. The lynx was pursued by all known methods, and simultaneously its livelihood was systematically destroyed: the forests were cut down and its prey, the small ungulates, largely exterminated.

With the recovery of forests and wild small ungulates in the 20th Century, the ecological conditions for a reintroduction were re-established, and in 1967 the Federal Council made the important decision to begin a program of returning the lynx to Switzerland. In 1971 the first pair of lynx originating from the Carpathian Mountains was released in Obwalden. Further releases took place in the Jura mountains.

Since then, two lynx populations have evolved in Switzerland: in the Jura Mountains and in the north-western Alps. From 2001–2008 several lynx from these populations were relocated to the northeast of Switzerland to promote the expansion of the species.

Humans and Lynx

Lynx are no threat to humans. Human-wildlife conflicts result from attacks on livestock and from competition with hunters for roe deer and chamois. The lynx is protected and the Swiss lynx concept (DE, FR, IT) defines all guidelines for the management of the lynx. Livestock proven to be killed by lynx are reimbursed by the federal government and the cantons. In case of repeated attacks, actions to protect the herds are put into effect. If a single lynx kills more than 14 sheep or goats during one summer pasture season, permission to shoot that lynx can be issued. If lynx reduce the local roe deer or chamois density to a level that affects hunting success, the lynx population can be locally reduced. For such interventions, several conditions must be met. The reduction of the lynx density is performed by capture and relocation. If this is not possible, then shooting of single individuals can be considered. The aim of such interventions is to reduce a local high density, while promoting the distribution of the lynx in its native environment.

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