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Earth Notes - Lynx on the Loose

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Lynx on the Loose

Domestic cats tend to do exactly as they please. Wild felines are no different, as biologists learned after re-introducing lynx to Colorado's southern mountains.

Over the past decade, 218 of these wild cats with shaggy coats and tufted ears were placed in woods where they'd become regionally extinct decades ago. Each lynx wore a radio-collar that allowed scientists to follow its movements.

Many of the lynx thrived in the wild, although more than half of the original animals have since died. More than 100 kittens succeeded them, however, and the state stopped releasing new lynx in 2006.

The biggest surprise was how far the collared cats traveled. Colorado's Division of Wildlife has tracked its lynx into every neighboring state and beyond.

Somehow, these stealthy predators have safely crossed ranches, badlands, and interstates as far as Idaho, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, and Iowa. Some individual animals wandered more than 500 miles in search of the high-elevation, spruce-and-aspen forests that lynx favor. A few crossed the arid lowlands of the Four Corners region into northern Arizona's mountains.

That persistence is remarkable, but lynx still face long odds in the West. There's been a steep decline in the number of snowshoe hares, the cat's favorite prey. Also, insect damage to forest trees is reducing the dense cover lynx need to launch ambush attacks.

As a result, biologists still worry about how well lynx will persist in this southern part of their range. But at least they've got a chance.