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Learning about lynx

Few of us will have the opportunity to see lynx in the wild, although they are native to parts of France, my best chance of an encounter was at Les Maracottes zoo, a very pleasant train ride into Switzerland from Chamonix.

Lynx are best distuinguished by their size, tufts of black hair on their ear tips and by their short tail. Whilst they may have the look of a domestic cat about them make no mistake, standing at about 70cm at the shoulder, weighing approximately 18kg and with padded paws about 7cm long and 6cm wide, these are wild cats.

Les Maracottes has a pair of lynx and my friends and I hoped to see any newly arrived kittens which are born in May. Females normally have three kittens, two of which usually survive into adulthood.

On our visit the female came and walked along the edge of their compound. She was vocalising as she walked: a deep sound, almost a quiet roar. There was no doubt we were in the presence of a wild animal. She had a great dignity and what I can only describe as integrity and a sense of her lynx-ness: she just was who she was.This is difficult to articulate but that's the real sense she gave me.

Native to France, studies indicate there are some 120 lynx in the Jura. Lynx live in wooded terrain with rocky crags and a source of food. In the Alps their prey are primarily chamois and roe deer. Lynx make use of the crags as lookouts, as they hunt by ambush, and for their dens because they don't dig as say a fox would.

Lynx live solitary lives for most of the year and each lynx has a large range of over 100km square. These factors, plus the fact that they are most active at dawn and dusk, mean they are rarely sighted. You are more likely to see traces of their activity for example tracks, droppings or a carcass. A carcass which was identified as a lynx kill was found above the Chamonix valley last year.

 The map on this link shows sightings and traces of lynx in Eastern Haute Savoie.

The presence of big carnivores like lynx or indeed wolves is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. These predators at at the top of their food chains and the fact that their numbers are on the rise is a good sign that the whole network is functioning well and they have prey to feed on.

Lynx may be wild cats but they are not a threat to humans in any way. This however does not stop their presence becoming a source of tension with farmers and local hunters. This recent article discussing the re-introduction of lynx to parts of the UK highlights some of these issues.

I shall have to content myself with continuing to search for signs of these elusive felines and live in the hope that one day I may catch a glimpse of lynx in the wild.

For more information about Les Maracottes zoo click here.