Thursday, November 12, 2009

Colorado: Lynx an animal worth protecting, not killing

by Gretchen Lamar
Durango Nature Studies
Article Last Updated; Thursday, November 12, 2009 12:01AM

I was saddened to hear news of an illegal killing of a Canada lynx outside Silverton last month.

The person(s) responsible for this act needs to take a lesson on respectful backcountry travel from our local hunters, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. The needless killing of wildlife is disheartening, and is even more so when it is an animal as rare as the lynx. In light of these events, I dedicate this article to the Canada lynx.

There are three wild feline species found in North America: the lynx, bobcat and puma (or mountain lion). The name "lynx" comes from the Latin word for "lamp," an obvious reference to feline eyes that are highly specialized for nocturnal hunting, and have expanded irises as well as reflectors that catch light not absorbed by the retina the first time.

The Four Corners is one of the few places in North America that is home to all three species. The range of the lynx is farther north than the other two, staying mostly in Canada and Alaska, with small populations in the northernmost U.S. states as well as the Rocky Mountains. In our area, the lynx keeps to heavily forested areas at high elevations where there is more snow.

The lynx has a number of physical adaptations that help it survive in the snow. Although its weight is comparable to that of a full-grown bobcat (about 20 to 30 pounds), its tracks are more likely to be confused with the much larger puma, a cat that outweighs the lynx by 100 pounds or more. The lynx needs its large paws to travel efficiently through snow, and its unusually large, hairy paws work like snowshoes, preventing the cat from sinking into the snow. To differentiate between puma and lynx tracks in the winter, remember the tracks of a lynx are less likely to sink in snow.

The lynx diet is also perfect for cold regions. It is more prey specific than its relatives, preferring snowshoe (or varying) hare, an animal rarely found outside northern and alpine regions. The predator-prey relationship between the two species is so close, that the fluctuations in a lynx population will correlate with the hare population in its territory.

About every 10 years a hare population will experience a boom and lynx will respond by producing larger litters. When the hare population inevitably crashes, the lynx population will decline in response.

We should remember to be proud to have this elusive creature in Southwest Colorado. Lynx were reintroduced here in 1999 after an absence of more than 20 years. Since then, more than 100 kittens have been born in the wild. It seems that the lynx and their offspring like their new home, and I hope that in the future we will remember to be thankful for and respectful of our wild neighbors. or 382-9244.

Gretchen Lamar is program manager for Durango Nature Studies.


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