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European Lynx Specialists Confer

CAT NEWS
Issue 14, Spring 1991

The quality of lynx reintroductions in Europe has been "alarmingly poor", and only three out of nine attempts since 1970 can be considered successful.

The conclusion was presented to a European conference on lynx by Ulrich Wotschikovsky of the Wild Biologische Gesellschaft, Munich. He said that the successful reintroductions were in Obwalden and Jura in Switzerland and in Slovenia in Yugoslavia. Final results could not be given for projects in Alsace, France, and Sumava, Czecho-Slovakia.

Wotschikovsky, quoting evaluations of projects by Götz Kerger of his Institute, declared that reintroductions did not seem to be carried out seriously.

"Lynx releasers put out animals first and start thinking about research, management, legislation, damage to livestock, public relations etc afterwards", he declared.

He said that no preparatory studies had been conducted. People in charge were often unfamiliar with the demands of the species. They did not bother about genetic variability, and were unaware of population dynamics. Therefore, too few animals were released and the population was not able to build up in a short time. Adaptability, migration, home-range size or the quality of the animals released had not been considered. Lynx had left release areas, such as the Gran Paradiso, Swiss and Bavarian national parks because the areas were too small or there was too much snow. Outside the refuges, lynx were shot or killed by traffic. The lack of tolerance by hunters and sheep farmers had not been considered.

Wotschikowsky said the first key to lynx reintroduction was the amount of habitat available rather than its quality, as the lynx was highly adaptable. Secondly, the reasons for earlier extinction needed to be removed. In particular, he said, every project had been troubled by shooting, and that in the Bavarian forest had most likely failed only because too many lynx were shot. For various reasons too few lynx were released. There was a lack of documentation as a basis for project control.

Dealing with the successes, Wotschikowsky said that the lynx population in the Alps was growing satisfactorily and that in Slovenia had outgrown any expectation. There were good chances of viable populations in Alsace and Sumava. If lynx were released in the Bavarian Alps they would have a good chance of survival and successful reproduction.

Looking to the future, he said that more lynx were needed to complete the projects in Alscae and Sumava. Gaps in the slowly growing Alpine lynx population should be filled by releasing animals between Slovenia in the east and Switzerland in the west. A start should be made in the central Bavarian Alps, where lynx could quickly join the Swiss population and establish sub-populations in parts of the Bavarian and Austrian Alps.

Support should be given to reintroductions in the Palatine forest in Germany, because the lynx could easily join the Alsace population. But Wotschikowsky opined that proposed lynx reintroduction in the Black Forest was unlikely to lead to a viable population.

Regarding proposals for reintroduction in central Italy's Abruzzo National Park, Wotschikowsky said it was doubtful whether the area belonged to Lynx lynx or Lynx pardina (the Iberian lynx).

Country Reports:
Czecho-Slovakia
Finland
France
Poland
Spain and Portugal
Sweden
Switzerland
Turkey
USSR
Yugoslavia

Lynx and Farming
Lynx and Hunting

 

Czecho-Slovakia: Lynx were exterminated in the west of Czecho-Slovakia in the last century, but survived in the Slovakian Carpathians, despite near extermination by hunters, according to Pavel Hell of the Zvolen Foresty Research Institute. After fluctuations the lynx population was now slowly increasing, he said. But he personally estimated 500-550 lynx rather than the official estimate of 895, which relied on hunters' estimates without any scientific census.

After the war there had been a rapid increase in the lynx population, and numbers of roe deer Capreolus capreolus, boar Sus scrofa, and red deer Cervus elaphus rose commensurately, indicating that deer progressively adjusted to the presence of lynx and the population stabilized. Foxes Vulpes vulpes increased and the wild cat Felis sylvestris was not affected.

Lynx posed a serious threat to sheep and fallow deer Dama dama, disastrously so in breeding areas. However, damage to sheep in high pastures was at a tolerable level and less significant than that attributable to bears and wolves.

Lynx posed no threat to tourism as they were wary of humans, and there was no significant risk of rabies transmission.

Lynx had all-year round protection, but regulation of numbers had become necessary in northern Moravia and Sumava. Pavel said that the timing of hunting and the numbers of lynx to be taken should be changed. The government had not so far agreed, although the proposals were "very important if the lynx is to survive".

 

Finland: The large number of licenced kills of lynx in Finland reflect an increase in the population from zero in the late 1950s to about 500 in the late 1980s, according to Erkki Pulliainen, of the Department of Zoology, University of Oulu.

In a paper prepared for the meeting he said that lynx had never been abundant in northern Finland, where reindeer Rangifer tarandus husbandry was practised. By the 1950s the last lynx had been destroyed in Häme, the core area in southern Finland. However, lynx had recolonized Finland from the Scandinavian peninsula and the Soviet Union. Lynx had been given protection in Finland in 1968, after which special licences were granted for hunting where there were sufficient numbers. Population density was highest in northern Karelia and in Häme, where most potential territories were inhabited by male lynx.

Pulliainen said there were very few roe deer where lynx occurred, but in the southwest (Häme) white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus, introduced more than 50 years ago from North America, made up 43% of the lynx's winter diet. They were easy to catch at artificial feeding sites in winter. Hares made up 42% of the winter diet, and despite population fluctuations the lynx had been able to catch sufficient food.

 

France: Lynx are present in two, possibly three areas of France. They have been reintroduced in the Vosges mountains in Alsace, and the reintroduced population in the Swiss Jura has expanded into France. Although the last lynx in the Pyrenees was said to have been killed in 1957, there are recent indications that the species still exists.

Veronique Herrenschmidt and J-M. Vandel of the Office National de la Chasse said that from 1972 to 1983 lynx had been released in Alsace by an informal group and then, until 1985, by an association. The lynx dispersed further than expected and regularly killed roe deer. Poaching of a lynx in 1984 showed a lack of education among people in the valleys and the hunters' lack of understanding.

In the second period, from 1985-1990, the operation was undertaken by the Office National de la Chasse, which was charged with responding to hunters' questions and with following-up the releases. Studies in a 5,000 ha zone with a roe deer density of 5-6/100 ha showed that lynx took between three and six per cent (females and young). Lynx appeared to need a range of 10,000-20,000 ha. Thus reintroduction was only justified in vast forested massifs of over one million ha, or small massifs where there was the possibility of linking up with other suitable forests. The Vosges represented the second case.

Four males and two females were reintroduced while national and regional public information campaigns were conducted through the press, films, children's competitions and creation of a regional observation commission. Lynx were again poached in 1987, leading to a sociological survey of the local public perception of the operation. It showed an important lack of local understanding.

In 1990 release of two males and two females was envisaged, along with the establishment of a network of observers throughout the massif. Information programmes had been started in each commune and a European Lynx Association established.

Lynx were introduced in the Swiss Jura in 1974. In 1984 the first attacks on sheep occurred in neighbouring areas of France. The number of sheep killed was four in 1984; four in 1985; six in 1986; 29 in 1987; 158 in 1988; and 429 in 1989, without there being any biological explanation. Three communes with a total area of less than 5,000 ha suffered 37% of the attacks in 1989.

Measures taken included evaluation of each attack and compensation for sheep owners if lynx were considered responsible. Protective collars were provided for sheep, and trapping, shooting and poisoning were employed to combat predation. In 1989, 1,000 collars were fitted to sheep, and in 1990 3-5 lynx were eliminated. The number of sheep killed fell to 147 up to October 1990.

Herrenschmidt concluded that all reintroductions in a western country, such as France, must be preceded by an agreement with farmers on a system of evaluation of the reasons for sheep deaths.

 

Poland: The lynx is endangered in Poland and should be given complete protection, Dr Henryk Okarma of the Mammal Research Institute, Bialowieza, said.

At the end of the 19th century lynx survived only in the Masurian lakeland in the northeast, the Biaolwieza Forest bordering the USSR and the Carpathian mountains in the south. Although the Ministry of Environmental Protection put the lynx population at 500-600, he thought there were only about 200. Up to 60 were killed legally by hunters every year, and there was also considerable poaching. There was no predation on sheep or other domestic animals, Okarma declared.

 

Spain and Portugal: Between 1,000 and 1,200 Iberian lynx Lynx pardina exist in Spain, including possibly some 300 breeding females, according to Miguel Delibes of the Estacion Biologica de Donana. The number was decreasing, with loss of habitat and increasing fragmentation very noticeable, he added. Lynx had disappeared as a regular breeding species from 80% of the range occupied 30 years ago.

Delibes said there were lynx in at least 10 central and southwestern parts of Spain covering 10-15,000 km2. Some areas were very small, each containing little more than a dozen lynx. Others, such as Sierra Morena and Montes de Toledo were relatively large and contained 70-80% of the total lynx population. However, even in lynx areas distribution was patchy, and it had been established that there were 48 more or less separate areas of stable presence.

Lynx specialized in rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus, which had declined because of myxomatosis and other diseases. Priority should be given to building up rabbit numbers in lynx areas.

Over half of killed lynx were caught in steel leg-traps set for rabbits and foxes, while in the Donana area many were run over by cars. Lynx were sometimes shot illegally, but they were not especially hunted.

Delibes said that the survival of species required consideration when planning large public works and evaluating environmental impacts in lynx areas.

Addressing the question of the specific validity of Lynx pardina, Delibes said that it had overlapped with Lynx lynx in Central Europe without any evidence of interbreeding.

"All authors familiar with the species have claimed the Iberian lynx as an independent species", he declared. It was probably the most endangered carnivore in Europe.

A separate paper by the official Spanish Servicio de Vida Silvestre said that, whether or not the Iberian lynx was a separate species, conservation measures were clearly indispensible. The paper quoted extensively from the work of Delibes and his colleagues at the Estacion Biologica de Doñana in Spain. Regarding Portugal it said that massive clearance to grow wheat in the 1940s led to the disappearance of large areas of Mediterranean vegetation inhabited by lynx. Subsequent myxomatosis epidemics and large plantations of pines and eucalypts had resulted in a drastic reduction in potential lynx habitat and significant fragmentation of the last population nuclei. The population had been estimated at 40-60, confined almost entirely to areas bordering Spain.

Spanish legislation required preparation of recovery plans for endangered species. The paper listed indispensable measures:

  1. Comprehensive study of land ownership and use, road and other infrastructures, vegetation and presence of rabbits.

  2. Habitat protection and elimination of non-natural causes of mortality.

  3. Increasing rabbit density in lynx range.

  4. Encouragement of lynx research.

  5. Campaigns of environmental awareness.

  6. Centralised information bank.

  7. Establishment of a hospital for sick and injured lynx.

  8. Exploration of the possibility of a captive breeding programme.
In a paper on management of lynx in the Donana National Park, Miguel Aymerich of the Instituto para la Conservacion de la Naturaleza stressed the importance of measures being implemented since 1987 for regeneration of lynx and rabbit habitats; reduction of competition with rabbits for food by culling other herbivores, reduction of livestock, and fencing to keep ungulates out; reduction of killing of rabbits by control of foxes and eradication of feral dogs, and by protecting warrens and creating refuges.

In addition he said that there were plans for additional research into lynx and its habitat; and monitoring the effects of the management plan on lynx, rabbit and fox populations, and on plant life and biodiversity.

Other measures in the management plan included efforts to reduce lynx mortality due to poaching, road accidents, and falls into wells, as well as provision of refuges on neighbouring cultivated land.

 

Sweden: Lynx were found throughout most of south and central Sweden in the early and mid-19th century, but then suffered a drastic reduction. Anders Bjärval of the Swedish Environment Protection Agency said lynx then disappeared from most of its southern range, where bags, which had averaged over 250 a year, fell 90% in 70 years. No lynx had been shot south of the four northernmost counties between 1911 and 1915. From 1928 to 1943 the lynx was fully protected and the population was restored, particularly in the north. During the late 1940s and 1950s lynx spread to previously unoccupied areas, even to alpine areas above the treeline. This brought lynx into contact with semi-domestic reindeer.

It had been found that reindeer became an essential part of lynx prey in northern Sweden. Attacks were quite successful -- in one study 45 out of 64 attacks succeeded. It appeared that reindeer were not so observant as roe deer further south, and they might mistake lynx for the dogs used for herding.

A study of relations between reindeer and carnivores between 1982 and 1986 showed that the lynx was a much more important predator than wolverine on reindeer calves, mainly female. Wolverine killed calves mainly in western, mountainous areas, while lynx killed most in the eastern, forested areas.

From 1943 to 1985 there was an open mid-winter hunting season for lynx throughout Sweden. Towards the mid-1980s there was conclusive evidence that the population was decreasing. While hunting pressure was thought to be the main reason, sarcoptic mange and feline panleucopenia were probably involved. Because of the decline lynx were given full protection in 1986 outside reindeer management areas. In these areas Lapps were compensated for damage by lynx. Bjärvall said that hunting might be allowed if the lynx population recovered, but, if not, the Environment Protection Agency was ready to ban hunting also in reindeer areas.

(Following the Neuchâtel meeting, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) announced plans to monitor the lynx population in the county of Jämtland in northern Sweden. Klas Hjelm said that the county had the highest number of reindeer reported killed by lynx and thus received the highest financial compensation paid by the government. However, very few lynx were reported in the area. A close study of the lynx population was therefore very important. It would be carried out in February and March 1991.

Hjelm said the total lynx population in Sweden might be as low as 200-300, according to estimates by Franzén and Bjävall (1990). The SSNC had called for a total ban on hunting. The government decided in January 1991 to abolish the hunting season in the three northernmost countries in the country, where hunting has been allowed since 1986.)

 

Switzerland: Almost all big game species became extinct in Switzerland in the past two centuries, Simon Capt of the Federal Environment Office told the conference. First ibex Capra ibex, red deer and roe deer disappeared, followed by brown bear Ursus arctos, wolf Canis lupus and lynx. However, ungulate populations had increased in the past 80 years as a result of natural repopulation and releases. The most spectacular rescue saved the ibex.

Lynx was given legal protection in 1962, and between 1971 and 1976 at least 20 lynx from the Carpathian mountains were released in the Alps and the Jura. In the cantons of Obwalden and Neuenburg two small populations grew and spread, so that today lynx had recolonized some 10,000 km2 in the northern and central Alps and 5,000 km2 in the Jura. It was estimated that there were now 50-100 lynx in Switzerland.

Only in 1982, after lynx attacks on sheep in the Bernese Oberland, was a research programme begun. Twentysix lynx had been radio-collared and more than 4,000 daily locations had been made in three different regions. The study showed that lynx needed very large home ranges. Established populations showed home ranges of 100-150 km2 for females and 200-400 km2 for males. Male and female home ranges overlapped almost completely.

Capt said almost 85% of lynx prey consisted of roe deer and chamois, but lynx also took small prey, such as mice and squirrels, and others up to red deer fawns of 70 kg. The annual consumption of lynx amounted to about 50-80 small ungulates.

Between 1973 and 1989 lynx killed 533 domestic animals, mainly sheep. Losses had stabilized at 50 animals a year in recent years, representing quite small economic loss. Up to 1988 compensation had been paid by the Swiss League for Nature Protection, but it had been taken over by the federal government and the concerned cantons.

The impact of lynx on prey populations was not excessive, according to the results of a three-year study of a pair of lynx in an area with about 700 roe deer and 700 chamois. The predation rate was about 100 (7%) out of 1,400. At the same time, hunters killed 490 ungulates in the area, and 278 were found dead.

Capt said that the natural lynx-prey relationship had been reactivated, which would be an advantage in future, even if the prey population was reduced.

 

Turkey: Forests cover 26% of Turkey and lynx occur in all the wooded regions, except the Aegean plains, southeastern and central Anatolia and the central Black Sea Coast. There are no estimates of the number, according to Mehmet Serez of the Faculty of Forestry, Karadeniz Technical University, but all indications were that it was decreasing. Lynx were hunted for centuries by Turks and Greeks, and there was still uncontrolled hunting in Turkey until 1990, resulting in the decline. Now hunting was restricted to certain areas between 1 August and 31 March. Only one lynx per day was permitted and there were differential trophy fees for Turkish and foreign hunters. Meanwhile, there were 83 game conservation and breeding areas in Turkey covering 15,000 km2 where lynx hunting was prohibited. This had had a great effect on conservation of lynx.

Serez also raised the possibility of the existence of Lynx pardina in Turkey, stating that several authorities had recorded it during the 19th century, and N. Turan had suggested in 1984 that it still survived in northwestern Anatolia and the Black Sea region.

The paper also reported caracal Felis caracal in western, northeast and central Anatolia, especially on the Tokat plateau. Hunting was completely prohibited.

 

USSR: High lynx density occurs in parts of the European USSR where ungulates are the basis of the diet, Anatoli Zheltuchin of the Central Forest Nature Reserve, Kalininskaya stated. In the 180 km2 Borzhomi Nature Reserve in the mountainous Caucasus there were 30-35 lynx. In forested lowland areas the highest density occurred in the Biolawieza Forest bordering Poland with 10 per 100 km2. But where alpine hare Lepus timidus was the basic lynx diet, lynx numbers fell to below four per km2. This situation also occurred in the southern and central Urals and some neighbouring regions.

Deforestation and abundance of alpine hare were the main factors in limiting lynx numbers, but others included hunting and competition with the larger wolf Canis lupus, especially in areas where ungulates were the main prey (Caucasus, Central Urals, Eastern Siberia and Far East).

Lynx showed high adaptability, including to areas of human settlement. For this reason, lynx was a species for reintroduction and conservation in recreational zones.

Reviewing the status of lynx throughout the USSR, Zheltuchin said the population was estimated at 36,000 to 40,000. It was the most widespread large predator, ranging from the Carpathians to Kamchatka. It had been found as far north as 72N, and south to 48N. During the past two centuries the southern boundary had moved more than 400 km north. Lynx were no longer found in Moldavia, the greater part of Ukraine, and in the southwestern and some central regions of Russia.

During the last 50-60 years the lynx had been observed to move from its usual habitats. In the 1930s it invaded Kamchatka and also Taimyr and Kolskiy tundra. In the south it appeared sometimes in forest and steppe regions of Kazakhstan and West Siberia, and had moved into sparsely wooded territories in Bryansh, Tambov, Kuybyshev, Orenburg regions and Tartaria. There were very high lynx densities in zones such as southern taiga, deciduous forests and forest and steppe zones. Two-thirds of the lynx population were estimated to live where such zones occured in mountainous areas.

Lynx was traditionally hunted in the USSR and the furs made up one per cent of the total fur trade. The largest number of lynx hunted was 5,800 in 1956, while 5,500 in 1986 represented 15% of the lynx population. Lynx hunting was regulated in the same way as other fur-bearing animals.

Overall, lynx conservation was not a problem in the USSR, but was necessary in some regions. Lynx hunting was not permitted in Moscow, Ivanovo, Vladimir, Ulyanovsk and some other regions.

 

Yugoslavia: A native population of about 200 lynx lives in the high mountains of parts of Macedonia, Kosova and Montenegro, according to Janez Cop of the Institute for Forestry and Timber Industry, Ljubljana. In Slovenia the last lynx was caught in 1912, but in March 1973 six lynx (3:3) from Slovakia were released in the Medved hunting preserve of Kocevje. Reproduction occurred immediately.

Research had been continuous since the reintroduction and had shown that the lynx had constantly extended its territory, and that lynx reintroduced in Austria in 1977 had entered Yugoslavia. By 1990 lynx occupied a territory of about 6,000 km2 in Slovenia and Croatia.

Hunting was authorized in 1978 and 192 lynx had been shot. In addition there had been some illegal shooting, which probably increased the total taken to over 200.

The main prey of lynx was roe deer, followd by red deer. Lynx exterminated an entire colony of mouflon Ovis orientalis in a 1,000 ha enclosure, but there had been no major problem with sheep as there were few farms in the central area. However, lynx were migrating to sheep farming areas. There had been no sign of lynx rabies, although rabies was prevalent in the area.

Dealing with hunters' views that lynx would exterminate deer, Cop said research suggested otherwise -- deer were increasing in hunting preserves where most of the lynx lived.

While the lynx population had not yet stabilized, Cop said he believed the reintroduction had been successful. Unfortunately, finance to continue the study was lacking.

 

Lynx and Farming

French sheep farmer Denis Grosjean described the lynx problem as "disastrous".

Grosjean, who is one of the farmers most affected by lynx attacks close to the Swiss border, said: "The responsibility lies not with the animal itself, but with the ecologists, who, for reasons that were possibly well-intentioned, but undoubtedly ill-considered, successfully campaigned for the reintroduction and protection of the species. Lynx attacks, which are cyclical and repetitive, condemn farmers in high-risk areas to work in agonising desperation."

He said the most serious problem was indirect loss of sheep resulting from stress caused by lynx attacks. The effects included a drop in fertility. staggered lambing season, refusal to graze in certain folds, drop in growth rate, disturbed flock behaviour, and extra work. These were difficult to prove and should be taken into account.

"They represent an insidious threat to the fragile economic balance of sheep farms," he declared.

Grosjean criticised the system of evaluation of sheep attacks and called the compensation "unfair".

Describing the description of sheep-killers as <169>deviant<170>, Grosjean it would be abnormal if lynx did not eat sheep. He was critical of the measures taken, such as shooting and trapping lynx and putting collars on sheep.

"Nature is the environment, tool and livelihood of farmers. As shepherds, we are guardians vis-ā-vis our fellow citizens of a small area of mountain land and we cannot be left out of the management of the mountains of which we are a living component. It cannot be left to scientists, naturalists, ecologists, whether informed or merely dabbling, nostalgic nature lovers passing themselves off as experts, or town people who dream of a Nature thirsty for blood...Lynx are all well and good, but not just anywhere, and not as an enemy, intent on causing our ruin...Surely, Europe must pay the price for the luxury of reintroducing such a savage and outdated animal. In the meantime, we are the victims of an appalling waste and tremendous accumulation of blunders that are equally as harmful to the image of would-be environmental protectionists as to sheep farming."

 

Lynx and Hunting

Jean-Pierre Boegli, President of the Federation of Swiss Hunting Associations contested the view that hunting was solely responsible for the disappearance of the lynx in the 19th century. He said the central factor was that the lynx's favourite prey -- roe deer and chamois -- had become scarce, depriving newborn and young animals of the means of survival.

Boegli reviewed lynx reintroduction in Switzerland and said the lynx had colonised the whole of the country in less than 10 years.

"In our fragile natural environment, the reintrodcution of a new predator, with no immediate rivals, is a further destabilizing factor at a time when efforts are being made to save certain species, such as the capercaillie Tetrao urogallus and hazel grouse Tetrastes bonasia from extinction."

Many calculations had been made to show that the lynx toll of game was no higher than that on roads and could easily be accepted by hunters.

"This argument overlooks the facts that the lynx kills at random: fawns are left parentless and foetuses killed in the womb; and its erratic behaviour has a disruptive effect on roe deer and chamois herds, obliging females to give birth in unsuitable places, with a consequent rise in kid and fawn mortality."

Boegli said hunting authorities were convinced that, in game management, the lynx was no substitute for the hunter, who had long since ceased killing game at times crucial for animals, such as mating and breeding seasons.

He called for official studies of the behaviour, distribution and numbers of the ungulates on which lynx preyed, and for a lynx management plan. He affirmed that Swiss hunters wished to continue playing a full and active part in nature protection, and to manage a game "capital" and draw "interest" on it.




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