Joy, a dog owned by Kumie Costea, was attacked by a lynx on Jan. 30 while in their McIntyre front yard. Lynx are struggling to find food this year due to a low hare population. (Submitted)

Joy, a dog owned by Kumie Costea, was attacked by a lynx on Jan. 30 while in their McIntyre front yard. Lynx are struggling to find food this year due to a low hare population. (Submitted)

Bear spray, leashes recommended for dog walkers after lynx attacks

Low hare populations have led to hungry, aggressive lynx, Conservation says

Yukon Conservation Officer Services is warning that aggressive lynx are present in Whitehorse, after a dog was attacked in McIntyre on Jan. 30.

Kumie Costea, a McIntyre resident, said he let his dog, Joy, onto his front lawn for a quick pee last Saturday. A conservation officer happened to be driving past as a lynx attacked.

“He pulled the lynx off of her and had to shoot it,” Costea said. “The lynx bit all over her back and tore off her ear.”

Costea said he heard Joy scratching at the door and opened it to find her injured. The officer drove him to the vet and informed him he had been patrolling for aggressive lynx due to earlier reports of them attacking animals in the area.

“If the (conservation officer) wasn’t there, she would have definitely died,” Costea said.

It’s rare for lynx to attack pets or livestock near humans, explained Diana Dryburgh-Moraal, spokesperson for the Department of Environment.

Several incidents of lynx attacks this year, including in McIntyre and in Beaver Creek last month, are signs that lynx are struggling to find food.

“This is likely due to the hare population — the hare population fluctuates quite extremely — and the lynx population is closely tied to that population,” Dryburgh-Moraal said.

“When there are not enough hares on the land to support the lynx then that leads to lynx that are food-stressed, and they will then search in abnormal spaces, such as residential areas, and act more boldly in order to find food.”

The natural population cycle of hares surges and wanes, Dryburgh-Moraal said. When they overbreed, the hares’ habitat can’t support the high number. The population will crash for a couple of years until a new balance is found and numbers grow again.

Conservation services determined this must be a low-population year, leading to aggressive lynx, as they rely on the animals as a food staple.

Yukoners are encouraged to keep pets supervised and walked on a leash to keep them close. Even starving lynx are less likely to attack a pet with a person closeby, Dryburgh-Moraal explained. It’s also extremely unlikely that a hungry lynx would ever attack a person.

“You can also carry a deterrent with you, something like bear spray or a walking stick or hiking pole that would give you something to help fend off the animal if an attack were to occur,” Dryburgh-Moraal said.

“Bear spray is effective on all sorts of wildlife, not necessarily just bears.”

Costea said that Joy escaped the situation “by the skin on her neck” and was thankfully found to have escaped any serious fractures. The dog is now on antibiotics and pain medication and is expected to make a nearly full recovery.

“Of course, there’s nothing we can do about the ear, but she’ll be fine,” he said.

Anyone who has an aggressive encounter with a lynx should call the conservation tip line at 1-800-661-0525.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

Wildlife

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