Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx)

Other Names:
lynx (France); luchs (Germany); lince (Spanish); sinokoi (Ainu: Sakhalin island); lusan (Armenia); meshag, mesh (Azerbaijan); tsogde (Baltistan: Pakistan); shihli (Chinese); ilves (Finland); lynx (French); potskhveri (Georgia); varchakh (Farsi: Iran); lince (Italy); silovsin, suloosun (Kazakh; Kyrgyz, Uzbek); yi (Ladakhi: India); phiauku (Lahul: India); shleleisin (Mongolia); gaupe (Norway); patsalam (Kashmiri); rys (Russian: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Russia, Slovenia); lodjur (Sweden); vasak (Turkey); su laisun (Uygur).
  • Description and Behavior

  • Ecology

  • Biology

  • Habitat and Distribution

  • Population Status

  • Protection Status

  • Principal Threats

  • References

  • Description and Behavior:
    The Eurasian lynx is the largest of the lynxes. Adult males weigh on average 21.6 kg (n=103), while females are slightly smaller at 18.1 kg (n=93). The lynxes of eastern Siberia consistently reach the greatest size (Breitenmoser and Breitenmoser-Würsten in prep.). The Eurasian lynx has relatively long legs, and large feet which provide a "snowshoe effect", allowing for more efficient travel through deep snow. In winter, the fur grows very densely on the bottom of the feet (Formozov 1946). The coat is greyish, with tint varying from rusty to yellowish. A bright reddish tint, with profuse spotting, is seen most frequently in the south-western part of the lynx's range (southern Europe, Asia Minor and the Caucasus: Heptner and Sludskii 1972).

    There are three main coat patterns: predominantly spotted, predominantly striped, and unpatterned. While the spotted-striped types, controlled by the "Tabby" gene, predominate in present reintroduced European lynx populations (originating mainly from the Carpathian mountains further east), Ragni et al. (1993) show through examination of 26 pelts of the original, now extinct, populations of the European Alps that these animals were chiefly unpatterned, and were, moreover, smaller in size. Eurasian lynx have long, prominent black ear tufts, and short black-tipped tails. Lynx activity peaks in the evening and morning hours, with resting mainly around mid-day and midnight (Bernhart 1990).

    Although the Eurasian lynx is often classified with the three other lynxes as a predator of lagomorphs (e.g., Gittleman 1985), this is a major misconception (Breitenmoser and Breitenmoser-Würsten in prep.). Small ungulates, particularly roe deer, chamois and musk deer, are the main prey, and lynx will generally only take small prey when ungulates are scarce (Vasiliu and Decei 1964, Danilov et al. 1979, Birkeland and Myrberget 1980, Heptner and Sludskij 1980, Jonsson 1980, Somerlatte et al. 1980, Pulliainen 1981, Malafeev and Kryazhimsky 1984, Breitenmoser and Haller 1987, Herrenschmidt and Leger 1987, Dunker 1988, Hucht-Ciorga 1988, Cop 1992, Ragni et al. 1992, Zheltuchin 1992). When young blue sheep are not available (A. Abkukadir pers. comm. 1992), lynx in China have been reported to prey on pikas, large rodents, and hares (Feng et al. 1986). Pulliainen et al. (1988) point out that, in Finland, lynx tend to be in better condition in the south-west - where there is an introduced population of white-tailed deer from North America - than in the remainder of the country, where roe deer are very rare and hares are the main available prey. Similarly, Zheltuchin (1992) states that lynx are found at lower densities in the northern parts of Siberia where there are hares but no ungulates; in these regions, arctic hares and lynx fluctuate cyclically (Heptner and Sludskii 1972), similarly to fluctuations described for the Canada lynx (see Species Account).

    In some parts of their range, lynx prey mainly on large ungulate species (mostly females or young), including red deer (Hell 1973, Gossow and Honsig-Erlenburg 1986, Jedrzejewski et al. 1993), reindeer (Haglund 1966, Bjärvall 1992), and argali (Matjuschkin 1978). Lynx are capable of killing prey 3-4 times their own size (Gossow and Honsig-Erlenburg 1986, Haller 1992).

    While all the lynx species are similar in appearance, the Eurasian lynx bears the closest morphological resemblance to the Canada lynx (Kurtén and Rausch 1959), and the two are very often treated as conspecific. However, Breitenmoser and Breitenmoser- Würsten (in prep.) argue convincingly that the two are ecologically separate species. Specialization for different prey has led to a divergence in life history and social and spatial organization. Unlike the Canada lynx, the Eurasian lynx has a "phenotype set" typical of a large felid (Sunquist and Sunquist 1989): it is large, long-lived, kills prey at least half its own body weight, forages over wide areas, and generally exists at low densities. Only in some parts of its range, chiefly the northern boundary, is there ecological similarity between the Eurasian and Canada lynxes in their predation on cyclically fluctuating hare populations.

    Reproductive season: (W) mating season Feb-Apr, births May-Jun (Europe, Russia: Ognev 1935, Dal 1954, Kazcensky 1991, Kvam 1991).

    Gestation: (C) average 69 days (Hemmer 1976).

    Litter size:
    W - 2.5+0.5 (Norway, n=8: Kvam 1991);
    1.82+0.6 (Switzerland, n=14: U. Breitenmoser in litt. 1993);
    C - 2.1+0.9; range 1-4 (n=141: Kaczensky 1991).

    Interbirth interval: (W) generally one year, but with occasional breaks, e.g., three years with litters, one without (Switzerland: U. Breitenmoser in litt. 1993).

    Age at independence: (W) 10 months (Switzerland: Breitenmoser et al. 1993a).

    Age at first reproduction: (W) females 20-24 months (Kvam 1991, U. Breitenmoser in litt. 1993); males approximately 30 months (Kvam 1991).

    Juvenile mortality: (W) Breitenmoser et al. (1993a) found high rates of juvenile mortality for a lynx population living in a densely settled area of Switzerland: 50% pre-dispersal (n=14 kittens); 80% post-dispersal (n=5 sub-adults).

    Recruitment rates: 0.69(Breitenmoser et al. 1993a) - 1.25-1.5 (Kvam 1990) juvenile lynx per female per year.

    Age at last reproduction: (W) females 14 years (n=1); males 16-17 years (n=1: U. Breitenmoser in litt. 1993).

    Longevity: W - up to 17 years (Kvam 1990, U. Breitenmoser in litt. 1993); C - up to 24 years (Green 1991).

    Habitat and Distribution:
    Throughout Europe and Siberia, lynx are associated primarily with forested areas which have good ungulate populations (Haglund 1966, Nováková and Hanzl 1968, Matjuschkin 1978, Malafeev and Kryazhimskiy 1984, Haller and Breitenmoser 1986, Breitenmoser and Haller 1987). In Central Asia, lynx occur in more open, thinly wooded areas (Heptner and Sludskii 1972, Matjushkin 1978, Tan 1984). Lynx are probably found throughout the northern slopes of the Himalayas, and have been reported both from thick scrub woodland (Chundawat 1990a) and barren, rocky areas above the treeline (Roberts 1977). On the better-forested southern Himalayan slopes, the only record is a sighting in alpine tundra (4,500 m) from the Dhaulagiri region of Nepal (Fox 1985, D. Mallon in litt. 1991). Lynx occur locally over the entire Tibetan plateau, and are found throughout the rocky hills and mountains of the Central Asian desert regions (Bannikov 1954, Stubbe and Chotolchu 1968, Heptner and Sludskii 1972).

    The Eurasian lynx has one of the widest ranges of all cat species, with approximately 75% of the range within the borders of Russia (Figure 5). Lynx have been recorded as far north as 72°N, near the edge of the continental landmass (Zheltuchin 1992).

    Population Status:

    Global: Category 5b
    Regional (Asia): Category 3
    Regional (Europe): Category 2
    IUCN: Not Listed

    The stronghold of the Eurasian lynx is a broad strip of southern Siberian woodland stretching through Russia from the Ural mountains to the Pacific. The Russian population has been estimated to be 36,000-40,000 (Matjuschkin 1978, Zheltuchin 1992), but it is not clear how these figures were derived (U. Breitenmoser pers. comm.). Heptner and Sludskii (1972) reviewed reports on lynx distribution in detail, and concluded that in Russia a major population increase and range expansion (including the colonization of the entire Kamchatka peninsula) took place in the 1930s-1940s. Lynx re-colonized areas where they had previously been extirpated, mainly due to a sharp decline in commercial hunting during this period of social upheaval.

    In China, lynx are found throughout much of the country, concentrated in the montane regions. Given its wide distribution, Tan Bangjie (in litt. 1987) and A. Abdukadir (in litt. 1993) are relatively optimistic, but emphasize that in many places it has become locally rare. Ma Yiqing (pers. comm. 1992) believes populations are declining in the north-east. G. Schaller (in litt. 1993) notes that lynx are the most commonly seen cat pelts in local fur markets in the west.

    Little information is available from the remainder of the lynx's wide Asian range. In Ladakh, Mallon's (1991) survey indicates that it is rare in the central region, but Chundawat (1990a) found it locally common in dense thicket scrub in the Nubra river valley. The lynxes of the Central Asian deserts and high mountains inhabit ecosystems very different from the cold coniferous forests with which the species is primarily associated. They appear to prey mainly on hares and rodents, rather than ungulates, but their ecology is little known (A. Abdukadir in litt. 1993, U. Breitenmoser pers. comm.) . Bannikov (1954) described lynx as common in the desert hills of south-western Mongolia. Lynx are now quite rare in the Caucasus (Z. Gurielidze and A. Bukhnicashvili in litt. 1993). Animals from this region, with their small size, reddish coat, and heavy spotting, are sometimes recognized as the subspecies L.l. dinniki, and were once considered conspecific with the spotted Iberian lynx, L. pardinus (Heptner and Sludskii 1972).

    The most comprehensive data on species status is from the European sub-region (Breitenmoser and Breitenmoser-Würsten 1990, Anon. 1992b), where lynx are thinly distributed and isolated into discrete sub-populations (Figure 6). The species was actually eradicated from most of the sub-region within the past 150 years (Kratochvil 1968), surviving only in the north and the east. In these regions, numbers fell in the early 1900s, but recovered concurrently with increases in small ungulate populations (Breitenmoser and Breitenmoser-Würsten 1990). Lynx have since been reintroduced in several parts of western Europe, the most extensive effort for any felid species (see Part II Chapter 6).

    In northern Europe (Finland, Norway, Sweden, north-eastern Poland and the European region of the former USSR), the population is stable and connected to the larger Siberian population. In central Europe, a relatively large but isolated population is found in the Carpathian mountains (Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Ukraine). Small populations are found in the French Pyrenees and Vosges mountains; the Jura mountains (France, Switzerland); the Alps (Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland); the Balkans (Albania, Croatia and Slovenia); and the Bohemian forest (Czech Republic) (Breitenmoser 1991).

    The most thorough estimates of resident adult density (per 100 km2), derived from radiotelemetry studies, are available from Switzerland: 0.94 (Jura Mountains: Breitenmoser et al. 1993a); 1.2 (northern Alps: Haller and Breitenmoser 1986 ); 1.43 (central Alps: Haller 1992). Based on snow tracking, Hjelm (1991) estimated 0.34-0.74 individuals/100 km2 in Sweden. Where ungulate prey is abundant, density estimates are high: 10-19 lynx/100 km2 in the Bialowieza Forest in Poland and Byelorus (Heptner and Sludskii 1972).

    Where hares are the major prey, density estimates from Russia are of the order of less than four lynx per 100 km2 (Zheltuchin 1992).

    Excluding outliers, Breitenmoser et al. (1993a) reported average home ranges for males of 264 + 23 km2, and 168 + 64 km2 for females. Within these home ranges, core areas averaged 185 + 58 km2 for males, and 72 + 27 km2 for females. Females tended to use the central part of their home ranges more intensively (Kaczensky 1991), whereas males regularly visited the periphery of their home ranges (Dötterer 1992). Thus, male core areas averaged 70% of their home ranges and showed some overlap, while those of females were exclusive, and averaged only 44% of their home ranges. With the exception of the overlap zones, one male and one female shared the same area. On average, 86% of a female's home range was covered by a male's home range. Studies from Sweden (Haglund 1966) and Russia (Matjuschkin 1978, Zheltuchin 1984) have also concluded that males generally share their ranges with just one female and her kittens. However, males seem to avoid female core areas, and thus appear to control a zone around females and their kittens, avoiding competition for prey and excluding other male competitors (Breitenmoser et al. 1993a).

    Protection Status: CITES Appendix II.

    Hunting prohibited:
    Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

    Hunting regulated:
    China, Finland, Slovakia, Mongolia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Russia, Turkey.

    Hunting prohibited in protected areas only: Bhutan, Myanmar.

    No information:
    Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Iraq, Italy, North Korea, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Slovenia, Syria (Breitenmoser and Breitenmoser-Würsten 1990, Nichols et al. 1991, Anon. 1992b; A. Bukhnicashvili, E. Mukhina in litt. 1993, IUCN Envl. Law Ctr. in litt. 1994).

    Principal Threats:
    Lynx are vulnerable to destruction of their ungulate prey base. Under harsh winter conditions, they may not be able to subsist successfully on smaller prey (Pulliainen 1992). Large ungulate prey are favored in the winter because of their vulnerability in deep snow. For example, Scandinavian lynxes have been reported to switch from predation on small game in autumn to large game in winter (Haglund 1966, Birkeland and Myrberget 1980). Hunting pressure may also play a role in lynx population declines (Hell 1992).

    Zheltuchin (1992) reported that clear-cutting can have a negative effect on lynx abundance. In the Tver region, lynx were stable and resident when the level of deforestation was approximately 25%. When 80% of an area was clear-cut, the frequency of lynx tracks was about 15 times lower than in areas consisting of 40-50% mature forest cover.

    Breitenmoser and Breitenmoser-Würsten (1990) review lynx predation on livestock for European countries, and include information on the different ways it is dealt with by national authorities (see also Part II Chapter 2). Problems are most severe in western Europe where lynx have been reintroduced. After native wild ungulates re-adapted to the presence of predators, livestock killing increased, but later declined as lynx dispersed and became less concentrated. Overall stock losses are relatively low in these countries, and are compensated either by the government or environmental groups. Switzerland, which invests about US$35 million every year as a subsidy for sheep farming, pays out only about US$7,000 (Anon. 1994a) as annual compensation for lynx kills (rates are agreed upon by stock owners). The problem is thus not really economic, but psychological and political (Breitenmoser and Breitenmoser-Würsten 1990). For 100 years, Western European farmers have had the luxury of not having to guard livestock against losses to predators. A prominent French farmer invited to speak at a symposium on the lynx referred to it as "a savage and outdated animal" (Grosjean 1992).

    There is no information beyond harvest reports on which to base an assessment of the biological impact of commercial trapping for furs, and thus its significance as a threat is difficult to judge. In Russia, A. Zheltuchin (1992, and in Breitenmoser and Breitenmoser-Würsten 1990) and Matjuschkin (1978) indicated that harvest levels range between 2,000-5,800 annually. The maximum harvest reported (1956: 5,800) is similar to harvests reported for 1985-86, which could indicate that the lynx population has remained relatively stable. Annual harvests on the order of 5-6,000 have been reported in the Soviet Union as long ago as 1956 and 1928 (Heptner and Sludskii 1972). Russia exports most of its reported harvest, averaging about 5,000 pelts per year between 1985-1989 (WCMC unpubl. data). There was a surge in exports from China from 1984- 1988, with a peak of over 12,000 skins in 1986 (WCMC unpubl. data). This trade was probably in response to high pelt prices prevailing at that time, when Canada lynx populations were at a cyclic low. Given that China lacks the organized trapping infrastructure present in Russia, it is possible that the skins could have been taken originally in Siberia, unaccounted for in the official harvest (U. Breitenmoser in litt. 1992).

    Both China and Russia announced in 1993 the setting of export quotas for lynx furs: 2,800 per year from Russia, and 1,000 per year from China (Anon. 1993b). Exports of lynx furs from these two countries are currently low, below 1,000 annually.

    While lynx re-introduction in Switzerland has been considered a success, Breitenmoser et al. (1994) have found that the population has stopped expanding, and is threatened by an imbalanced sex ratio (lack of males). The problems facing the Swiss lynx population are discussed in Part II, Chapters 2, 3 and 6. In general, lynx adapt well to settled and cultivated areas if population levels do not become too low. Lynx have been reported from the outskirts of Moscow, Leningrad and other large Russian towns (Heptner and Sludskii 1972).

    Available from
    IUCN Publications Service,
    119c Huntingdon Road,
    Cambridge CB3 0DL, UK.
    T: +44 1223 277 894;
    F: +44 1223 277 175;

    Island Press
    Box 7, Covelo,
    CA 95428
    T: 800 828 1302 (toll free in US)
    707 983 6432

    Peter Jackson