Dead Colorado lynx offers insight into human-wildlife interactions
January 12, 2017
An 18-second Facebook video watched nearly a million times instantly made a lynx casually traversing a ski slope in Durango internet famous. However, the story had an unfortunate ending when the animal was found dead this past Sunday.
Other footage of the animal from several guests at Purgatory Resort in the days that followed soon surfaced, and that began to raise red flags with state officials. Similar behavior among wildlife is not totally out of the ordinary, given increased human-animal interactions as the outdoors become more crowded, but the repeated appearance of the lynx was troubling.
"The first time I saw a video, I didn't think that much of it," said Scott Wait, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife senior terrestrial biologist. "We're kind of in an epicenter of lynx here in southern Colorado, and it's absolutely cool for me and absolutely cool for citizens. But as that behavior was repeated in several different videos at several different places around Purgatory, each one of them increased my concern."
Colorado Parks and Wildlife retrieved the carcass from the west side of the resort and will eventually release the results of a necropsy, an animal autopsy, including analysis of the contents of the animal's stomach and inspection for parasites and injuries. An initial Colorado Parks and Wildlife examination showed the animal to be underweight.
The state agency wished to emphasize that just because a wild animal one may come across looks skinny — be it a moose, fox, deer or lynx — it's no explicit reason for alarm. That lean physique is often the nature of these animals depending on the season. In addition, simply running into wildlife does not mean it is unwell.
Lynx and mountain lions are reclusive animals, and spotting one alone is not reason to file a report with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Both roam in areas of Eagle County.
Lynx were reintroduced in the state in 1999 with more than 200 transplanted from Canada and Alaska over the next seven years. Since then, multiple generations have been born, and they're commonly known to pursue snowshoe hares within lodgepole pine-forested sections south of Breckenridge near Copper Mountain and Vail Pass.
The markers of potentially unhealthy wildlife are whether an animal appears lethargic and fatigued, or — like the lynx in Durango that caught the attention of so many over the holidays — relatively unresponsive. Any form of discharge from the animal's eyes, nose or rectum is also a condition that would suggest the animal might be ill. A typically nocturnal animal being active and in search of food during the day is another warning sign.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is always willing to take calls if people have concerns about an animal so they can come and assess the situation. A scenario where a predator presents an obvious danger to a human or pet would be the time to start dialing.
"That's foremost on our mind and our response," Wait said. "We're not going to tolerate a dangerous animal acting dangerous around people."
What remains true and of utmost importance is wild animals need to maintain a healthy fear of humans. That means not feeding wildlife, no matter how hungry they might appear, locking away trash so moose, foxes and raccoons aren't consistently attracted, and immediately removing birdseed feeders from the yard if deer, elk or bears begin to show up.
What specifically might have ailed the lynx in Durango won't be known for a few weeks. Diseases like plague are not uncommon among wildlife that eat infected rodents. Another possibility is that the animal was injured to the extent that it could not adequately catch prey. Its hunger may have made it unaware of possible hazards, like people on a ski slope. Wait did not wish to speculate, but was complimentary of how most everyone treated the rare sighting of the elusive animal.
"People around it were very well behaved, people stayed put and the lynx went where it wanted," he said. "That's a nice thing to see. In a subsequent video, somebody was following the lynx and that's behavior I discourage.
"Don't encourage habituation through food or shelter, or activity," added Wait. "That generally just doesn't end well for an animal."