Eurasian lynx are solitary and secretive creatures who live in dense forests full of hiding places and stalking opportunities. Often, the only way humans know that lynx are in a particular area is by the footprints that they leave in the snow. One of the most prolific of cats, the Eurasian lynx was originally found in the UK, across Western Europe, and as far east as China. Today, however, numbers have reduced greatly throughout 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.
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. In the more southern parts of their range, meanwhile, lynx tend to be more reddish brown in colour and more heavily spotted. Coat colour can also vary with the season, with red and brown fur being more common in warm months, and grey and silver coloured fur in winter months. The coat is thick, dense, and double-layered for protection against cold weather.
Long-legged with huge, snowshoe-like webbed paws which ensure that they are effective and fast predators even in deep snow, lynx also have distinctive ruffs of hair around the face and neck. Their short tails are typically around only 8 inches long and are always black tipped, as are the small tufts of black hair on each ear, which are thought to improve their hearing.
Eurasian lynx greatly vary in size: they can be between 80 to 130cm in length and up to 70cm tall at the shoulder, weighing around 20kg on average.
Lynx are typically crepuscular, meaning that they are active at dawn and dusk, and will sleep during the 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, watch for prey, and even launch ambush hunts from.
As with most cats, lynx are solitary except for during the breeding season. However, male and female territories can overlap, in which case lynx may leave scent marks around the territory border as a form of communication. Territories vary hugely depending on density of prey species, with some as small as just 20km², and others over 400km².
Lynx make an unusual range of vocalisations throughout the breeding season, including 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.
The Eurasian lynx eats a wide range of prey species but are specialist roe deer hunters in particular. In the absence of roe deer, other ungulates including red deer are typically favoured, while various other small mammals can also be found often in the diet. Lynx will also occasionally hunt gamebirds and, quite rarely, sheep. They are strict carnivores and will eat around 1-2kg of meat per day.
The lynx’s preferred hunting technique is to stalk and pounce on prey utilising the dense cover of their preferred forested habitats, with ambush hunting occasionally used as well. As with all felines, Eurasian lynx are highly efficient hunters, quickly bringing down prey by utilising their weight, momentum, agility, and claws, before killing through choking at the throat or suffocating at the mouth and nose. They are exceptionally powerful hunters even amongst cats, with the ability to bring down prey up to four times their own size.
Breeding season occurs around February and March, when females come into oestrous for about a week. This is typical of cold weather cats, who have their young just in time for spring and summer, so that they can grow strong before the winter. Eurasian lynx will not breed at any other time of year, though occasionally females who lose a litter will attempt to produce 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 the female 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-long 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 after around 10 months, usually breeding for the first time at 2-3 years of age. Eurasian lynx can live to over 20 years of age in captivity, but usually just to their teens in the wild.
Lynx tend to be found primarily in dense forests, though they also favour 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. To combat this, many countries are now creating reintroduction programs. The population is estimated to be around 50,000 worldwide, the vast majority of which are in Russia and China.
Eurasian lynx are primarily threatened by human pressures (persecution through hunting, or accidental deaths such as traffic collisions), although habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and a lack of prey species are also significant threats. Natural threats to lynx are few, though wolves will opportunistically kill them, and wolverines will occasionally kill lynx defending their young.
Whilst the lynx is enjoying a period of stability and support in terms of reintroductions, it is important that these efforts are maintained.
Lynx are protected by CITES and the Bern Convention, having recovered from a population low of just 700 individuals in Europe in the 1950’s.