4th August 2008: Today I read that the Lynx cat may be reintroduced into the UK. That is a big step. Are we reaching a turning point in our approach towards wildlife and, my area of interest, wildcats?
[quick note: the reason why I am calling this cat the “Lynx cat” is because there are a lot things called “Lynx” in the world none of which are cats]
Yes, I read in the Sunday Times that some people in the wildlife conservation business think that the time is right to “rewild” parts of Britain. I had never heard of that term before. It refers to making parts of Britain genuinely wild again, where the human is not the top predator, where he or she will be frightened. That is a true state of wildness, it is said and I like that definition.
The big problem, obviously, is the relatively high human population of the UK. With the aim of introducing large animals there will be complications. We know how badly the cheetah gets on being forced to live on farmland in Namibia (see Cheetah Habitat)
Both the Netherlands and the United States (wolves) have done a bit of rewilding and the inspiration comes from those countries. The good thing about the Lynx is that they are secretive and steer clear of humans (wise, I’d say). This eases the path to the rewilding in respect of the Lynx cat.
And there is one area at least in the UK where there is enough space, the Scottish Highlands. Although the deforestation of Scotland makes the landscape unnatural. Apparently, the Lynx cat became extinct in the UK in medieval times (the medieval period ended in the 16th century). It has been provisionally decided that Scotland could support a population of about 450 Lynx cats. Bring it on, I say. No doubt it will be a considerable time before we see something tangible happening.
There is then a modicum of hope for people who respect and treasure our wild companions on this planet; although,lets be honest, the rewilding proposals are controversial. What, though, is the situation like at present in respect of the survival of this cat? – pretty dire, as usual, I am afraid.
Conservation or not
The term Lynx can mean anyone of these four cats: Lynx lynx (Eurasian Lynx), Lynx canadensis (Canada Lynx), Lynx pardinus (Iberian Lynx), Lynx rufus. The Iberian Lynx is critically endangered as its habitat in Spain and Portugal has been severely eroded and fragmented by mankind’s activities; not to mention sport hunting despite laws forbidding it.
Talking about sport hunting, in Eastern Europe, specifically Romania (but other Eastern European countries have similar issues) sport hunting appears to be actively encouraged by the authorities. I presume for financial gain. Apparently 500 wildcats (including, I am guessing the Lynx cat) were killed by sport hunting in 2007 despite the presence of animal welfare law (see Cat Animal Cruelty Laws Romania). In Romania there were 2,000 Lynx cats in existence until recently. It is really quite shocking. They are doing now (2008) what we, the British, were doing to Lynx cats in Britain in medieval times (see Croatia and cat animal protection legislation). No doubt when they have hunted the population to extinction in the wild they will then consider “rewilding”. It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if some governments took proactive steps rather than constantly reacting late in the day.
Croatia is another Eastern European country parts of which are living in a kind of medieval time. Wikipedia says it was thought that the Lynx cat was extinct in Croatia (and Slovenia) at the beginning of the 20th century. A resettlement program (this is not rewilding) in the early 1970s has been successful we are told. But, in practice, how safe is the Lynx cat from hunting in Croatia?
Although the range indicated in the map above looks wide the population is thin and ever declining. As usual, the overriding issue concerning the Lynx is its gradually eroded habitat as a result of human population growth and activities such as trapping and sport hunting. Behind human population growth is the concept of economic growth. This is a concept that underpins all of mankind’s existence in a capitalist world. There has to be growth, the economists say. Frankly, it’s time to take a reality check and to find a more refined economic model; one which allows us to live with our fellow creatures. Our current modus operandi is unsustainable, in the long term, for us and wild animals and we know it.
In the mid-late 1990s Canada decided against making the Canadian Lynx a protected species, despite declining populations through habitat loss and sport hunting. The Canadian Lynx’s favorite prey (only prey it seems) is the snowshoe hare. This hare is not a threatened species according to IUCN Red List. However, this hare’s population varies and when it declines the Lynx cat can starve to death.
Since the Europeans settled in North America Lynx populations have fallen dramatically through trapping for fur and habitat erosion as mentioned. The Lynx cat is secretive. Importantly, we do not have accurate information about population numbers, it seems to me. The same issues occur throughout the world in relation to other wildcats. Another example would be the tiger in India. The Indian conservationists struggle to keep a handle on the matter and have come up with misleading data. Recently they decided the figure were lower than thought. Surprised? Without accurate population numbers it is difficult to consider conservation measures and decide if the species is endangered.
The Lynx is very similar to the American Bobcat in appearance. In fact it is thought that the more aggressive Bobcat has had a negative impact on Lynx cat populations in North America, forcing the animal north to a colder landscape where its large feet can cope better in the snow.
The IUCN Red List for cats lists the Canadian and Eurasian Lynx as Least Concern. I would strongly dispute this, what measures are they based on? Do the have accurate figures and are they under political pressure? Or are the providers of the data working under a conflict of interest?
There are thousands of articles on the Lynx and I suspect all will make comment about the declining populations or populations that are becoming or have become endangered. Why isn’t this reflected in the Red List ranking? Lets take just one example. An article in the Anchorage Daily News about an protecting the lynx cat, Rocky Smith, Program Director of Colorado Wild’s Forest Watch Campaign program and a specialist on forest destruction says that “the lynx population in the southern Rockies is small and vulnerable to extinction, even with conservative management.”
This is kept deliberately short as the most important issue is conservation and secondly the pictures pretty much say it all. As you can see from the photographs in the slide show, this cat is not a big cat. It weighs about 22 lbs. This is at the very top end of domestic cats. Some Maine Coon cats are reported weigh 25 lbs. Click on the link to see a wildcat/domestic cat comparison chart. Also see Wild Cat Species by Size.
The Lynx cat coat is a tabby one. The distinctive features are:
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