They’re very mysterious, mystical, silent, and inspired a deodorant brand. I’m not especially sure why… Not that they smell bad but, I’ve never associated large cats with smelling good. They must have had their reasons. Deodorant aside however, lynx are a shy and beautiful creature found throughout the northern hemisphere, so I thought to dedicate this week’s post to them. Like the Arctic Fox post, this one is a bit different, more of an animal spotlight than a scientific discussion. It will include conservation success stories (yes folks, sometimes thing work and nature gets happier!), rewilding discussions, and a little bit of lynx symbolism in the pre-deodorant era.
There’s more lynx than one thinx
The word lynx is actually used to describe 4 different kinds of big cats from the genus “lynx” (this is the classification one up from species encompassing a slightly larger but still very similar group). These are the Canadian lynx, Iberian lynx, Eurasian lynx and the bobcat. They all have short tails, tufty ears and big paws. They are all bigger than house cats but smaller than tigers, the biggest being Eurasian lynx at up to 30kg (66 pounds) and the smallest being the bobcat at up to 14kg (31 pounds).
The Eurasian lynx is, as it’s name suggests, found in Europe, central Asia and Siberia, and it’s the third largest predator in Europe after brown bears and wolves. It tends to live in the forests and catches things like roe deer and ptarmigans.
The Canadian lynx is a sort of fluffier version, living in Canada and Alaska. It lives almost entirely off a diet of snowshoe hares, and is actually quite a good swimmer. It also used to live in the lower 48 states of the US, got locally extinct, and is now making a comeback in Colorado. Success!!
The Iberian lynx is another even more dramatic success story. It is found in the Iberian peninsula (around Spain, Portual and southern France), where it was at one point the most endangered cat species in the world. In 2004 there was only 100 of the animals, but with lots of protection and conservation efforts by the good people of Spain and their friends, this number jumped up to 327 in 2015. This number is continuing to rise. Big success!
Finally the bobcat which is found in northern Mexico, the U.S and southern Canada. Bobcats are a bit more versatile than other lynx, living not only in forests but also in swamps, deserts, mountains and agricultural areas. As it is smaller, it’s a little lower down on the food chain so sometimes killed by bigger predators like coyotes.
Lynx have been a common species in rewilding efforts. Rewilding is when animals that were locally extinct in an area are introduced back into that area. This has been done for all kinds of species in all kinds of areas including wild boars, sea eagles and beavers. There has been programmes in Switzerland to reintroduce lynx which have been very successful, attempts in Germany which are going so-so, and a lot of discussion currently going on in the UK about whether they should be reintroduced.
It is a big and very controversial topic. Lynx died out in Britain around 1000 years ago because of over hunting and habitat loss to people, as happened with bears and wolves who also used to live in Britain. Some people want them back as they feel they are a natural part of the landscape, they could help keep down the population of some of their prey species like deer which are too high in number and need to be culled by humans, and due to their shy nature they are seen as not as dangerous to humans as for example reintroducing bears or wolves would be. On the other hand many owners of livestock like sheep worry that their animals might get killed by the lynx, and people are uncomfortable with introducing a large predator as at the moment Britain doesn’t really have any, and there are concerns that the population couldn’t survive anyways as it’s home has changed rather a lot in the last 1000 years. It’s a big debate, people are passionate on both sides so I’m not going to comment much on it, but just to let you know it’s a discussion that is happening.
Just for an extra interesting angle, I thought we could explore what lynx have come to mean to different peoples and cultures, just in case you need the facts for a pub quiz or something. The word lynx comes from the Greek word leuk meaning brightness or light because of their big reflective eyes. In fact this is a commonly noticed feature about this big cat. Throughout Norse, Greek and Native American mythologies it has been believed to have supernatural sight, being able to see through things both physically and into hidden truths and other worlds. In some Native American traditions they are known as the ‘keeper of secrets’. This mysterious and magical cat was also used to name a star constellation, the reason being because it is super faint so only those with the eyesight of a lynx can see it. It is also the national animal of North Macedonia and Romania.
They’re around to stay
Whether in local conservation programmes or rewilding schemes, lynx are a species (well, four species) that have benefitted a lot from human efforts in the last few years. Maybe many people really are cat people as we seem to go the extra mile to conserve them! This is a mysterious, magical, shy and quiet creature not often seen by people, but they deserve a bit of a shout out once in a while, so here’s to the tufty eared kitties!
For more info:
National Geographic Article with lots of great photos: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/group/lynx/
Rewilding Britain page with info on Lynx but also other potential rewilding programmes: https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/reintroductions/lynx