Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Ninth lynx collared in Washington study

Females manage to elude capture in study of lynx

Researchers studying the largest population of Canada lynx in Washington state captured and radio-collared their ninth cat in four years last week.

By K.C. Mehaffey

The Wenatchee World

Researchers studying the largest population of Canada lynx in Washington state captured and radio-collared their ninth cat in four years last week.

The 23.5-pound male, now named Lycan, was caught in a baited trap, weighed and measured, ear-tagged, radio-collared and released by biologists in the Loomis State Forest. Researchers will follow his movements using GPS satellite tracking.

All nine lynx captured so far have been males, and biologists are hoping to catch and collar at least one female as part of the study.

"The females continue to elude us," said Scott Fisher, regional biologist for the state Department of Natural Resources in Colville, Stevens County.

In an effort to catch a female, biologists used tracking dogs for the first time last fall, but the hounds were never able to keep up with the lynx.

"Lynx are pursuit predators who love to run. They would just take the dogs through the thickest, nastiest blowdown stuff they could find," and eventually lose them, he said.

This winter, biologists have been moving the lightweight PVC-pipe and chicken-wire traps to areas where they see tracks that show a female lynx and her kittens living nearby.

"On numerous occasions, we've had them walk right up, walk around all four sides and never go in," Fisher said.

Avoided bait

One even walked into a trap but did not take the bait — which triggers the door to close — and therefore was not captured, he said.

Trapping started later than usual this year, he said, due to budget constraints.

In addition to Lycan, biologists recaptured Lolo on Feb. 19, retrieved his collar and released him with no tracking devices. They initially captured Lolo last March.

With 12 months of data, Fisher said, "We figured he had done his fair service for science."

So far, four of the nine cats have left the study area, including one that was legally hunted and killed near Kamloops, B.C., 120 miles north of the Canadian border, Fisher said.

Biologists hope to learn more about this shy and elusive creature by studying its habitat and abundance of its main diet, the snowshoe hare.

Designing plans

The results will help the state Department of Natural Resources design management plans that will create and preserve quality lynx habitat in the Loomis State Forest, where many of these small cats with giant paws live.

Fisher — who spends many weekends and holidays checking the traps when others are not available — was given a special-achievement award for his commitment to the project by the Washington Chapter of the Wildlife Society at its annual meeting in mid-February.

Biologists plan to continue trapping until the end of March, if there's enough snow and it's not too wet and heavy for snowmobiling.

This summer, researchers will start analyzing the data from the radio collars so far, which includes more than 6,000 GPS locations where the lynx have traveled.



Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org

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