Czechs team up with other countries to protect endangered lynx

Lynx, photo: CC0 Public Domain

Czechs team up with other countries to jointly monitor and protect the endangered lynx populations in Europe.

Lynx,  photo: CC0 Public Domain
Experts from six countries, including the Czech Republic, have joined their forces to monitor the lynx populations across Europe and outline a joint strategy to protect the endangered species. The wild cat, typical for its black spot and ear tufts, has been successfully reintroduced in the region some decades ago, but it is still threatened by poachers and changes to the landscape.

I met with Tereza Mináriková from the Czech NGO Alka Wildlife NGO, to find out more about the 3Lynx project:

“3Lynx means three European lynx populations. One is the Bohemian, Bavarian and Austrian lynx population, the second one is Alpine population and the third one is Dinaric population. These three populations will be targeted by the 3Lynx project so therefore the title.”

So the Czech Republic will be cooperating with several other countries in the region…

“Yes, there will be five partner countries – Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Italy. Also there’s going to be an associated partnership with Croatia so we’ll cooperate with Croatia too, although they’re not an active partner. But we’ll be in touch.”

Why is it necessary to cooperate with other countries to protect the lynx population?

“Because lynx doesn’t recognize any borders of states and regions. They are not important to the lynx. We recently got plenty of data about how lynxes are moving from the Czech Republic to Bavaria, then to Austria.

“It’s not an uncommon situation that a lynx would be born for example in the Czech part of the population in the national park Šumava, then it would migrate to Austria, for example to the Freiwald area and end up in a Bavarian site where it would stay and reproduce.

“This is exactly the case of Alpine or Dinaric populations. Those populations are shared by more countries and lynxes are moving freely over the borders, there and back. They are not interest if they are in the Czech Republic or in Germany.”

So what area do they usually cover? How large is the area that they are able to cover during their lifetime?

“The lynx territories differ among sexes. Females usually have 150 km2 to 200 or 300 km2 but male territories are larger, they can be up to 400 km2. In some cases of young males it can be up to 500 or 600 km2. But usually it’s up to 400 km2 their home ranges are very large.”

Tereza Mináriková,  photo: Matěj Pálka
What are the main aims of the 3Lynx project?

“The main aim is to prepare a transnational conservational strategy. This would ensure more efficient approach to the lynx conservation and management in those five countries. We have to harmonise our approaches.

“The approach to the protection of lynx is the same or similar to the neighbour countries, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. There’s no added value of transnational cooperation if we don’t harmonise. “

How serious is the situation? What is currently the biggest threat to the lynx population in these five countries that you have mentioned?

“It’s illegal hunting. Although the lynx are strictly protected species in all of European Union countries, traditionally it has always been a hunted species. After a strong population decline, it’s now protected as a ‘non-huntable’ species as we say. But still it’s illegally hunted. And the level of illegal killings is so high that it seriously threatens the survival of the populations.”

ALKA wildlife, the non-governmental organization that you work for has been monitoring the lynx population for some time now. How large is the lynx population in the Czech Republic at the moment?

“ALKA wildlife currently monitors only a part of the Czech Republic but we are in touch with colleagues from other regions. Our common guess is that the population maximum 80-100 animals. But if we talk about the Czech-Bavarian-Austrian population it’s 60-80 adult animals.”

When you talk about poaching being the biggest threat to the lynx population, is that the same in all of the five countries that you were talking about or is it a specific problem of the Czech Republic?

“No, it’s a common problem we have to solve somehow. I’m afraid that neither country has been successful in eradicating the illegal killings. So it’s still a number 1 threat.

“Habitat fragmentation such as building new transport infrastructure like highways or railways can also be a threat to the lynx because it divides them into smaller population patches. The animals then cannot meet, migrate and reproduce.

“This is the next threat we are addressing but illegal killing is number one most serious right now.”

Who is killing the animals and why?

Lynx,  photo: Silke Sohler,  CC 3.0
“First of all, lynx is viewed by the people as an animal that was traditionally hunted, it was so for centuries. It has been prohibited only recently because the situation is very critical. Some hunters still view the lynx as a pest species, species which should eradicated, which shouldn’t be in the forest because it’s hunting roe deer.

“Another case can be that lynx hunts farm animals like sheep. So damages cause by the lynx can be also a source of some human-animal conflict.

“All these issues should be somehow targeted by the 3Lynx project. The main goal of the strategy is to have a discussion, to have a dialogue among all the stakeholders that are involved in the lynx topic and to get an agreement on what should be done and how can the populations be preserved. So it is viable on one side but accepted by all the players. “

You were talking about the history of the animals in the territory of our country and you said they were traditionally hunted. I think at one point in history they were actually exterminated and then they were reintroduced. Is that right?

“Lynx was almost exterminated in our country in the 1940s and 1950s after the Second world war. There were almost no lynxes in the Czech Republic but still one or two animals remained in the area of Beskydy Mountains on the Czech and Slovakian border. Then in the 1950s and 1960s, from time to time there were some records of their presence. But definitely it was very few animals at the time, probably less than five.

“The situation changed in the 1970s when there was a reintroduction project in Boehmerwald in Šumava. This is the Czech-Bavarian-Austrian population. 18 animals from the Carpathians were released there. The reintroduction was very successful and was followed by another reintroduction of a few animals on the Bavarian side.

“The population grew and grew until the 1990s when we think it was at its best. It was probably about 100 animals. But then there was a decline so now we think there’s about 60-80 animals. The Boehmerwald area is the biggest area of the lynx in the Czech Republic.”

How likely is it that I’d encounter a lynx in Šumava if I walk in the forest?

Lynx,  photo: Czech Television
“It’s very unlikely. You’d have to be very lucky. The lynx encounters are mostly accidental if you’re not a scientist who’d be putting collars with transmitters so you know exactly where is the animal moving to. It’s very unlikely that you meet them. They are very rare and they are shy. They have reasons to be shy, if they weren’t, they would probably be exterminated.”

So how do you actually carry out the monitoring?

“We use camera traps. Those are cameras with automatic triggers, they are triggered by the movement of the animals. We put the camera into the forest, on a tree in a nice place which we think the lynx would like, like a rocky area.

“The lynx takes a picture of himself just by going around. It’s like a selfie or something. If the photo is of a good quality we can tell the individual by its colouring, by the types and number of spots.

“This is a big plus of the camera trapping surveillance. That you can really count the individuals, you can tell one from the other, you can know the families. It gives us very good insight into the population.”

You also mentioned the collar which monitors their movement. How do you succeed in catching a lynx and putting a collar around its neck?

“We don’t plan this, it was done for several years. There were projects by National Park Šumava and National Park Bayerische Wald. But these projects have already finished and I think enough is known about the lynxes movements.

“This type of monitoring is very good because you know the exact truth about the animal but is also very risky because to catch an animal is a big stress for it. The animal can even die of the stress and you also need to use anaesthetics.

“With the Three lynx project we decided we will not use this method anymore in the area because it’s not necessary. We will only do camera trapping as this is non-invasive and provides no stress. The animal usually doesn’t know it was photographed. It’s very safe and gives us enough information.”

Finally, the 3Lynx project has just been launched. When do you expect to have the first outcomes?

Lynx,  photo: Czech Television
The project is three years and each year we will do a population count. We will count the minimum of adults present in the area and we will somehow calculate the maximum assessment.

“We will also of course calculate the families and the number of juveniles and try to somehow asses the mortality. After that we will have a better idea about what is the status of our population.

“From the data we have it seems that the population is neither growing nor declining. But within three years we will have a better idea if it is really so and if it is stable or growing slightly. We cannot tell now.”