No new Colorado lynx kittens?
Vail CO, Colorado
DURANGO, Colorado ” For the second year in a row, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has come up empty in its search for lynx kittens.
Researchers believe the apparent lack of reproduction by the elusive cats over the past two years could be related to a decline in the state’s population of snowshoe hares ” the lynx’s main prey. Nonetheless, the adult population remains stable and has expanded from southwestern Colorado to various parts of the state, including the Vail area.
“Actually, they have dispersed. We’re seeing more of a stable population up around the Independence Pass-Leadville area, Summit County and even some movement across I-70 into the Frasier/Winter Park area,” said Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for the Division of Wildlife.
Lynx from Canada were released in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado beginning in 1999; six more releases followed over a period ending in 2006.
In all, 218 of the animals were released and wildlife officers have recorded the birth of a total of 116 kittens, though no new births have been documented for two straight years.
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“It sounds strange to us, but it is a natural occurrence,” Lewandowski said. “Obviously, we’d like to see reproduction. We’re disappointed, but we’re not alarmed.”
Biologists believe the cats could go through yet another year without reproducing and still not harm the state’s population because the cats have apparently adapted well to Colorado, Lewandowski said.
State biologists believe that, while adult lynx are finding enough food to survive ” those trapped during the winter for checkups are in good condition ” the females may not be finding enough high-quality food to sustain pregnancy.
In Canada, the population of snowshoe hares fluctuates, along with the population of lynx. “The fluctuation in the hare population is something that’s never really been studied in Colorado,” Lewandowski said.
The state is now funding a small-scale study to examine the snowshoe hare population in the Taylor Park area northeast of Gunnison.
It’s possible some lynx have reproduced under the state’s radar. Many of the radio collars on the lynx that were released have ceased working and most kittens born in Colorado weren’t outfitted with the transmitters.
“When we started the program we could track individual animals,” said Rick Kahn, lead biologist for the reintroduction project. “But now lynx have established themselves over a wide area and looking at specific numbers does not provide an accurate picture of what is happening with the population. We are most encouraged by the fact that overall long-term survival of adults remains at a high level.”
During the winter, the state traps adult lynx to replace radio collars and to check the general health of the animals. The cats trapped during the last two winters were in good shape and the mortality rate was low, said Tanya Shenk, field research leader for the reintroduction program.
“We know they can function fully in our environment,” Shenk said. “Fluctuation of hares and lynx is a classic biological predator-prey interaction. The natural system will usually readjust itself.”