CatSG

Eurasian lynx

Lynx lynx

IUCN Red List: Least Concern

Weight: 17-25 kg
Body length: 90-120 cm
Tail length: 19-23 cm
Longevity: 17-24 years
Litter size: 1-4 cubs

Description

Six different subspecies of the Eurasian lynx are proposed:

  • Northern lynx L. l. lynx occuring in northern Europe and western Siberia (Scandinavia, Finland, Belarus, Baltic states, European part of Russia, Ural, Siberia, east to the Yenisei river)
  • Carpathian lynx L. l. carpathicus inhabiting the Carpathian Mountains
  • Balkan lynx L. l. balcanicus found in the Balkans (Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo)
  • Caucasus lynx L. l. dinniki occurring in the Caucasus Mountains, south to Turkey, Iraq and Iran, formerly also in the Kopet-Dag, Turkmenistan.
  • Turkestan lynx L. l. isabellinus inhabiting Central Asia (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan)
  • Siberian lynx L. l. wrangeli found in Siberia east of the Yenisei river (Russia)

Additionally, three more subspecies have been suggested which need further investigation:

  • Altai lynx L. l. wardi inhabiting the Altai Mountains (Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia)
  • Baikal lynx L. l. kozlovi found in Central Siberia, form the Yenisei river to Lake Baikal
  • Amur lynx L. l. stroganovi occuring in the Russian Far East, Ussuri and Amur territories, North Korea, northeastern China (Manchuria)

The Eurasian lynx is the tallest of the lynx family. Individuals from the northern and eastern part of its range are generally bigger than the ones form the south and west. Males are about 25-30% heavier than females. The Eurasian lynx has long legs and its paws are more densely covered with hair in winter acting as snowshoes and thus allowing more efficient travel through deep snow. Its tail is short with a black tip. Its ears have a black back with a white spot with long black hair tufts. The fur of the Eurasian lynx can vary from grey to reddish or yellowish. Coat patterns vary from unspotted to unique rosette markings to distinct spots which can be small or large. The belly, chest and the underparts of the Eurasian lynx are light coloured. The subspecies L. l. isabellinus from Central Asia has a faint and almost unmarked coat. 

Other names

Language/Country

Name

Ainu: Sakhalin island

sinokoi

Armenia

Lusan

Azerbaijan

meshag, mesh

China

shihli

Czech Republic

rys

Finland

ilves

France

lynx, lynx boréal

German

Luchs

Georgia

potskhveri

India (Ladakhi, Lahul)

yi, phiauku

Italy

lince

Iran (Farsi)

siahh goosh

Kashmiri

patsalam

Kyrgyzstan

silovsin, suloosun

Mongolia

shleleisin

Norway

gaupe

Pakistan (Baltistan)

tsogde

Romania

rys

Russia

rys

Slovakia

rys

Slovenia

rys

Spanish

lince

Sweden

lodjur

Turkey

vasak

Uygur

Su laisun

Uzbekistan

silovsin, suloosun

Status and Distribution

The status of the Eurasian lynx varies greatly within its range. In the IUCN Red List it is considered as Least Concern. However, some isolated subpopulations in Europe are classified as Critically Endangered or Endangered. The Eurasian lynx was extirpated from most of Western Europe and has been reintroduced in several countries such as Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland. In others it recovered partly due to an increase in small ungulate populations and the reduction of threats.

Populations in Fennoscandia, the Baltic States, and European Russia are largely intact and stable. However, populations in Europe and southwest Asia are generally small and some are fragmented. In central Europe a relatively large but isolated population is found in the Carpathian Mountains. Small, partly isolated populations occur in France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, the Balkans and the Czech Republic.

In Europe, the lynx is divided into ten distinct subpopulations: the Alpine, the Balkan, the Baltic, the Bohemian-Bavarian, the Carpathian, the Dinaric, the Jura, the Karelian, the Scandinavian and the Vosges Palatinian subpopulation. Its whole population in Europe (excluding Russia and Belarus) has been estimated at 9,000-10,000 individuals. The autochthonous populations in north and east Europe (Scandinavian, Karelian, Baltic and Carpathian) number each around 2000 individuals and are thought to be stable or even increasing. All the re-introduced lynx populations number less than 200 or even less than 100 animals, are mostly isolated and classified as Critically Endangered or Endangered. The Critically Endangered Balkan lynx population is thought to be decreasing and only numbers 40-50 individuals. Also the Bohemian-Bavarian and the Vosges Palatinian populations are possibly decreasing and are estimated to number only 50, respectively 19 animals.

Status and trend of European subpopulations

Subpopulation

Population size

Conservation Status

Alpine

130

Endangered (D)

Balkan

40-50

Critically Endangered (C2a(i,ii) D)

Baltic

1,600

Least Concern

Bohemian-Bavarian

50

Critically Endangered (D)

Carpathian

2,300-2,400

Least Concern

Dinaric

120-130

Endangered (D)

Jura

100

Endangered (D)

Karelian

2,400-2,600

Least Concern

Scandinavian

1,800-2,300

Least Concern

Vosges Palatinian

19

Critically Endangered (C2a(i,ii) D)

In the Ukraine the lynx is considered to be decreasing. Its population in the Carpathian region has been estimated at 350-400 and the one in the Polysya region in the north of the country at 80-100 animals.

The status of the Eurasian lynx in China and in Asia is not well known and trends in many countries are poorly understood due to a lack of data. In China the population is considered to be decreasing. It is not known if lynx still occur in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia. In 2003 the lynx population in Mongolia was estimated to be 10,000.

Lynx population estimates exist only for few countries in Asia. The lynx population in Russia has been estimated to number around 22,510 animals in 2013. The lynx estimations in different regions of Russia and are based on different methods, but mainly on winter tracking and expert opinions. More accurate censuses are performed in regions with lower lynx densities than in areas where they are abundant. In Armenia is thought to be a common species, in Azerbaijan and in Kyrgyzstan lynx populations are thought to be stable. In Iran the lynx is proposed as Vulnerable and from Iraq since 2011 no more observations exist. In Nepal, Pakistan and Uzbekistan the lynx is thought to be decreasing and in Tajikistan it is considered as rare.

Estimated population size

Country/Population

Population size

China

27,000

Georgia

160

Mongolia

10,000

Pakistan, North

80-120

Russia

22,700

Uzbekistan

130

Densities range typically from 1-3 adults per 100 km². In Eastern Europe and parts of Russia, densities up to 5/ 100 km² have been reported, and in Scandinavia densities as low as 0.3/ 100 km² were detected.

The Eurasian lynx has one of the largest ranges of any cat species. It occurs from the Atlantic in western Europe through the boreal forests of Russia down to central Asia and the Tibetan plateau to the Pacific coast in the East. Its stronghold is a broad strip of southern Siberian woodland stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific. Approximately 75% of its range is within the Russian borders. 

Distribution area of the Eurasian lynx (red = extant, orange = possibly extant, , IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015).

Habitat

The Eurasian lynx occurs in a wide variety of environmental and climatic conditions. Generally, the Eurasian lynx is mainly associated with forested areas which support good ungulate populations and provide enough cover for hunting. The Eurasian lynx is found in extended, temperate and boreal forests from the Atlantic in Western Europe to the Pacific coast in the Russian Far East.

In Europe it inhabits all climatic zones and occurs from sea level up to the northern tree line. In central Asia the Eurasian lynx occurs in more open and thinly wooded areas and in steppe habitats. The species probably can be found throughout the northern slopes of the Himalayas, and has been reported both from thick scrub woodland and barren, rocky areas above the tree line. On the Tibetan plateau it occurs sporadically. The lynx has been recorded up to an elevation of 5,500 m. 

Eurasian lynx in the Swiss Alps.
Eurasian lynx in its typical habitat, Switzerland.

Ecology and Behaviour

The Eurasian lynx is a solitary and territorial animal. It is mostly active at dawn and dusk. Home ranges can vary highly between 100-1000 km² for males. The home range size varies in response to prey abundance and density, and to the regional population status. In Switzerland average home ranges for females were 90 km² and for males 150 km². In Poland’s Bialowieza forest home range sizes averaged 248 km² for males and 133 km² for females. Male home ranges generally include 1-2 female home ranges. Scent marks and calls are used for communication purposes.

The Eurasian lynx is an efficient hunter. It can kill prey up to 3-4 times its own size. It hunts by stalking and ambushing its prey. It has an excellent sense of hearing and very good eyesight to find its prey. The prey is killed by a targeted bite to the throat and when not disturbed, a lynx will typically feed for several nights on a single ungulate prey.

Females can reproduce the first time at the age of two years, males normally at the age of three years. The mating season is in February to early April with a peak in the second half of March. At this time, lynx are more often also active during the day and tend to call frequently. The gestation period lasts for 68-73 days and the births usually take place around end of May and the beginning of June. Interbirth interval is generally one year. The recruitment rates are around 0.69. The age of last reproduction observed in the wild was 14 years for females and 16 years for a male. At the age of two months the cubs follow the mother to the kill, females do not bring food to the den. The mother leaves the cubs at the age of around ten months during the next mating period, probably when she is pregnant again. Juvenile mortality is 50% during the first year and 50% during the second year when they disperse and look for an own home range.

Eurasian lynx scent marking.
Lynx cub, Switzerland.
Eurasian lynx cleaning its paw.
Camera trap picture of three lynx cubs.

Prey

The Eurasian lynx preys mostly on small to medium-sized ungulates such as roe deer, chamois, reindeer and musk deer. All other lynx species take smaller prey, such as lagomorphs. Occasionally the Eurasian lynx also takes larger ungulates such as red deer, but then mostly young animals. In Switzerland roe deer and chamois constitute 88% of the prey taken by lynx. When ungulates are rare, the Eurasian lynx relies on smaller prey such as hares, foxes, marmots, wild boar, birds or domestic animals such as goats, sheep or, in Scandinavia, domestic reindeer. In European Russia and western Siberia, where roe deer are absent, mountain hares and tetraonids are its main prey. Hares and birds are important prey also in other Central Asian regions where habitats are dryer and less forested. In Xinjiang, China, the main prey species were roe deer, hare and blue sheep. In Tibet the main diet included hare, pika, birds, Tibetan antelope, Tibetan gazelle, blue sheep and Tibetan fox. 

Lynx mother with its cub at a roe deer kill.
Eurasian lynx and its cub feeding on a roe deer.
Eurasian lynx carrying a freshly killed roe deer.
Young lynx with a chamois kill.

Main Threats

Radio-collared female lynx which was poisoned.

In Western Europe the lynx lost its original habitat through deforestation. At the end of the 19th Century, a lot of Western Europe was deforested and wild prey species were rare. The Eurasian lynx was also persecuted due to livestock predation and bounties were paid for each killed lynx. These factors led to the extinction of the Eurasian lynx in many parts of Europe and consequently to its reintroduction in several parts of its historic range. Presently, the main threats are still habitat loss and poaching, mainly retaliation killing due to livestock predation. However, depending on the region, the main threats vary.

In Europe the major threats to the lynx are low acceptance due to conflicts with hunters (and in northern Europe also with livestock farmers), persecution, habitat loss and fragmentation mainly due to infrastructure development, poor management structures and accidental mortality. A study from Switzerland showed that human-caused mortalities by poaching and traffic accidents were responsible for 70% of the lynx mortalities in the Jura Mountains. In reintroduced lynx populations, also reduced genetic diversity and small population sizes are of concern as this could lead to inbreeding depression.

In Asia the main threats include habitat loss and fragmentation mainly due to livestock farming, infrastructure development, resource extraction and logging activities, and poaching, mainly as retaliatory killing due to livestock depredation or for the fur trade. The conflict between humans and lynx is enhanced where livestock is the primary livelihood source to people. Moreover, lynx get accidentally caught in snares set for other animals or get killed by dogs. In Russia the lynx is still important for the skin market and the pelt industry. In some Asian countries, such as Azerbaijan, Mongolia and Pakistan, prey base depletion due to poaching is considered a major threat too.

Poor management structures, and insufficient law enforcement and the lack of capacity and funding facilitate poaching and lead to higher habitat fragmentation, aggravating the situation of the lynx. 

Conservation Effort and Protection Status

The Eurasian lynx is included in Appendix II of CITES, in the Appendix III of the Bern Convention and included in the EU Habitat Directive under Appendices II and IV. The lynx is protected and hunting prohibited in Afghanistan, Albania, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Nepal, Pakistan, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In Sweden, Finland and Romania the lynx is protected but a limited number can be hunted under derogation. In Estonia and Norway lynx is listed as a game species with an open hunting season, and in Latvia lynx can be exploited to a limited extent by sports hunting. In Iraq and Russia, the lynx is subject to hunting. In the latler it is only hunted in places where it is abundant. Hunting is not allowed in the Northern Caucasus and in the Southern region. The lynx is not protected in Armenia. No information is available for Bhutan, Mongolia and North Korea.

Conservation measures are in place to improve the perception of the lynx by local people. Better livestock management is promoted and a range of methods to prevent depredation are in place. If livestock is protected and managed carefully, losses through lynx predation can be minimized and human-carnivore conflicts reduced. Measures to counteract the conflict with hunters, are still missing. To address this threat, awareness has been increased and participatory processes initiated. For the critically endangered Balkan lynx a recovery program was launched in 2006 aiming to stop further decline.

It is important to carefully monitor the reintroduced populations in Europe in regard to their genetic diversity in order to avoid genetic impoverishment. Connectivity between small isolated European lynx populations should be enhanced to allow gene flow and prevent inbreeding depression. In Italy and Austria a reinforcement project has started to address these threats. Genetic monitoring is also needed in parts of Asia to detect the impact of habitat fragmentation on the genetic diversity of the lynx.

The lynx populations in Asia are not well known and only sparse information available. There is a need for further research on the lynx ecology, status and distribution in Asia to increase the knowledge on population trend, threats and conservation needs. Additionally, it is important to closely monitor the lynx harvest, where it is permitted, to ensure that the practice remains sustainable.

In some parts of its Asian range, awareness for the species and protection measures were enhanced. In Iraq, stakeholders, students, nature enthusiasts and social media were engaged into measures to stop illegal hunting. In Afghanistan, public awareness has been raised among local communities, wildlife laws were enforced and the Border Police and Customs office in certain parts of the country have been trained to control fur trade. In China, the patrolling by local police was strengthened and a nature reserve network was established. In Iran, a country wide status assessment in 2010-2012 was conducted. In Pakistan, a project focusing on lynx research and conservation education has been implemented in 2010 and the protected area network has been increased. Measures specific for carnivore conservation have been introduced in Pakistan which benefit also the lynx.