Endangered Species Report #48
Written by: Holly L. Koppel
The Canadian lynx, a species that has been hunted extensively for years, is now starting to show signs of serious declines in the population. Since the 1970's due to habitat loss and hunting, the population of the lynx has been steadily declining. The rate of decline has become so alarming in the United States that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service officially listed the lynx as Threatened in 2000.
Despite the name "Canadian" lynx, this species can be found throughout the northern part of the United States. Specifically, populations have been found in western Montana, northern Washington, the northern most parts of New England, and Utah. There has also been additional evidence to suggest that there may be small populations in Oregon, Wyoming, and Colorado. In Canada, the lynx can be found in every province except for Prince Edward Island.
This species prefers to live in mature forests that contain dense undergrowth; however, they can also be found in rocky mountainous regions and tundras. The lynx can easily hide itself away from prey and predators in these areas, and their snowshoe like paws make it easier for them to walk along the vast tundras.
The Canadian lynx's favorite prey is the snowshoe hare, and scientific studies have shown that with the fluctuation in the hare population, the lynx population declines at the same rate. Declines in snowshoe hare populations were originally thought to be the reason so many of the lynx were disappearing, but after researching the population trends, it turned out that the snowshoe hare is currently flourishing in its habitat while the lynx is disappearing.
This begs the question as to what is causing the lynx to disappear? A big part of the reason is hunters. What usually happens is hunters will bait their traps with a dead snowshoe hare (as these are quite easy to catch), and then wait for a lynx to find the trap. The lynx will then spot the hare inside the cage, and stalk it as if the hare is actually alive and could run, and then when the lynx gets close to the trap, it pounces on the hare causing the trap to catch the lynx inside.
Hunting is not the only danger facing the lynx's survival. Habitat loss is also becoming an increasing problem, especially in the United States. Normally, lynxes will travel almost ten miles nightly (they are nocturnal predators) in search of food, but as their habitat becomes fragmented and destroyed, they have to travel farther each night for food. Territories are also proving very difficult to create and maintain. During most of the year, the lynx will maintain a territory of about 50 miles; however, during mating season, territories between males and females will overlap.
Breeding season for the lynx typically occurs in February or March, and gestation lasts 8-10 weeks. The litter size can range from one kitten to as many as five, though many are just two or three kittens. At birth, the kittens are blind and helpless, and weigh only .5 lbs. They will grow quickly, and start eating meat brought by their mother after one month. The kittens will be weaned at five months, and they stay with their mother until the next winter season. After that, the kittens will strike out on their own and stake out their own territories.
Having such little protection in the countries the lynx resides in does not bode well for its future; however, the Canadian government is considering additional protections for the lynx, as the only population currently under federal protection is a small population found in Nova Scotia.