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Eurasian Lynx (lynx lynx) Species Description

Also known as; common lynx, European lynx, Northern European lynx, Southern European lynx, Russian lynx, Siberian lynx, Baikal/Irkutsk lynx, Mongolian lynx

You can find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about UK lynx reintroduction on our Lynx FAQ page!


Introduction
The Eurasian lynx is a solitary animal; a secretive creature that prefers dense forests full of hiding places and stalking opportunities. Often the only way humans know lynx are around is by footprints in the snow. One of the most successful of cats, the lynx was originally found from the UK to China, though in the modern age it has reduced greatly in number through Western Europe where populations are now mostly small and fragmented. In the UK the lynx was most likely hunted to extinction for its fur between 500-700AD.



Description
Eurasian lynx are medium sized felids that come in a variety of colours and patterns according to their locality; the British lynx was most closely related to Northern European lynx which are typically grey with a white, lightly spotted, belly. As you move further south throughout the lynx's range they tend to be more red/brown in colour and more heavily spotted. Coat colour can also vary with the season, red/brown being more common in warm months and grey/silver in winter months.

Long legged with huge, snowshoe-like webbed paws to keep them an effective and fast predator even in deep snow, they have a distinctive ruff of hair around their face and neck and a short tail typically around 8 inches long; this is always black tipped, just like the small tufts of black hair on each ear which improves their hearing. The coat is thick, dense and double layered for protection against cold weather.

Greatly varied in size Eurasian lynx tend to be between 80 to 130 cm length and up to 70cm at the shoulder, generally weighing 18 to 40kg.


Behaviour
Typically crepuscular, lynx are active at dawn and dusk often sleeping out day and night in dense thickets and other safe hiding places; they are good climbers and will use trees and high rocks as places to lay up, watch for prey and even launch ambush hunts from.

As with most cats they are solitary except for breeding season, however males and females overlap territories and carry out some form of communication through scent marks left around their borders. Territories vary hugely depending on density of prey species, some territories are just 20km2, some are over 400km2.

Lynx make an unusual range of vocalisations through breeding season; growls, coughs, grunts and meow-like caterwauling, the rest of the time they are very quiet but will mew, hiss, growl, purr and chatter at out of reach prey just as pet cats do.



Diet/hunting
The Eurasian lynx eats a wide range of prey but tends to focus on roe deer whenever they are available. In their absence other ungulates, including red deer, are typically favoured, and various other small mammals are also often in the diet. Lynx will occasionally hunt gamebirds and, quite rarely, sheep, they are a strict carnivore and will eat 1-2kg of meat per day.

The preferred hunting technique is to stalk and pounce on prey utilising the dense cover of their preferred forested habitats, ambush hunting is occasionally used as well. As all felines, Eurasian lynx are a highly efficient hunter, quickly bringing down prey with weight, momentum, agility and claws, then killing by choking at the throat or suffocating at the mouth and nose. They are an exceptionally powerful hunter even amongst cats, with the ability to bring down prey four times their own size.


Life cycle and Reproduction
Breeding season focuses on February/March when females come into oestrous for about a week, this is typical of cold weather cats which have their young just in time for spring/summer so they can grow strong before winter. Eurasian lynx will not breed at any other time of year, though occasionally females who lose a litter will attempt a second in April.

Through scent marks and vocalisations females will broadcast their availability for breeding to males in neighbouring territories who will then seek them out.

Pregnant females find a secluded den and line it with feathers, fur and grasses for warmth and comfort, usually having 2-3 kittens after a 2 month gestation period. Kittens are born blind and helpless, but by 6 weeks are eating solid food and ready to leave the den. They are fully weaned by 6 months and become independent around 10 months, usually breeding for the first time at 2-3 years of age. Eurasian lynx can live to over 20 in captivity, but usually just to their teens in the wild.



Habitat and distribution
Lynx are very focused on dense forests but also like habitat with rocky outcroppings. The modern range still encompasses Europe, parts of the Middle East and Asia as far as the Tibetan Plateau, though Western European populations are now fragmented and often very small; many countries are now creating reintroduction programs. The population is estimated around 50,000 worldwide, the vast majority of which are in Russia and China.


Threats
Primarily threatened by illegal hunting for fur, though habitat loss and fragmentation and lack of prey species are also significant threats to the Eurasian lynx. Whilst it is enjoying a period of stability and support in terms of reintroductions, it is important that this is maintained.

Natural threats are few, occasionally wolverines will kill lynx defending their young, and wolves will opportunistically kill them.

Lynx are protected by CITES and the Bern Convention having recovered from a population low of just 700 in Europe in the 1950s.




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