Yukon lynx fill a predator gap in Colorado

She likes her raw rabbits skinned. And she is particularly fond of squirrels. Unfortunately, she was flying Air North and squirrel is not one of…

She likes her raw rabbits skinned.

And she is particularly fond of squirrels.

Unfortunately, she was flying Air North and squirrel is not one of the snacks usually offered onboard.

The small Yukon lynx flew out of Whitehorse yesterday at 6:30 a.m., en route to Colorado.

She is the last of five lynx the territory shipped to Colorado this year as part of the state’s ongoing reintroduction program.

Since 1999, the Yukon has shipped 48 lynx to Colorado, 19 males, and 29 females.

Outfitted with radio/satellite collars, these animals have been thriving in Southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

“The Yukon’s geography and weather is similar to Colorado’s,” said Colorado division of wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski from Durango.

“The snow is deep and powdery, and the cats have been hanging mainly at 2,700 metres on north-facing hillsides in deep spruce stands.”

One Yukon lynx, released in Colorado in 2000, has already had three litters of kittens.

“She’s one of our stars,” said Lewandowski.

“We’re going to have to start taking lynx back up to Canada after a while,” he joked.

Local Yukon trappers are contracted to capture lynx in foot snares, designed for humane trapping.

“Lynx are calm,” explained lynx handler Rene Rivard, who is subcontracted by the Environment department.

“If they get caught in the trap and aren’t hurt, they won’t tug to make the snare tighter. And the snare is designed so they can tuck their paws under to stay warm.”

Colorado pays Yukon trappers $1,600 US for healthy female lynx and $1,200 for males.

“And by the time we get them here, what with vet checks and flights, it’s another $1,200 to $1,500 on top of that,” said Lewandowski.

“It’s not a cheap program overall. But it’s well worth it to get some native wildlife down here again, especially a predator.”

The last two indigenous lynx were shot in Colorado in 1973. And now, they’re protected in the state as an endangered species.

But there have still been at least nine lynx shot in Colorado, since the reintroduction program began.

“They may have been mistaken for bobcats, or shot illegally,” said Lewandowski.

“There is some poaching activity, although lynx pelts only go for $400 to $500 — there is also a trade in stuffed wildlife.”

In the Yukon, between 500 and 1,000 lynx have been harvested in the last few years, said Environment wildlife technician Helen Slama.

But in low years only a couple hundred are harvested.

The lynx population fluctuates with the rise and fall in snowshoe hare numbers — which are currently on the rise.

Although Colorado keeps close tabs on its collared lynx, the state has not yet studied its snowshoe hare population — a factor that will play a huge role in the continuing success of the reintroduction project.

Colorado only wants healthy lynx, so just before heading south, the Yukon lynx undergo a vet check.

Bright and early Wednesday morning, veterinarian Kim Friedenberg arrived at Rivard’s place, just off the Old Alaska Highway.

It was a frosty minus 25, and Friedenberg tightly cupped the anesthetic-filled syringe in his hand, so the liquid drug wouldn’t freeze.

The plan was to briefly drug the lynx; then examine her as quickly as possible.

“It’s not good for them to be unconscious too long in these cold temperatures, because their body temperature starts to drop,” explained Friedenberg.

The lynx was snuggled up in her nesting box, and it took a bit of jiggling before she came out.

Not too pleased about the rude awakening, she crouched in the corner of her cage, ears flattened.

After a quick poke with the anesthetic, she was left in peace, until she fell asleep.

Then Rivard picked her up and carried her in his arms to the makeshift, examining table in his tarp-covered shed.

“She is a small female,” he said.

“She might only be a yearling.”

Friedenberg fondled her paws and limbs, ensuring all felt normal, while Rivard measured her from nose to stubby tail.

“She has a torn second eye-lid,” said Friedenberg. “She must have caught it on something.”

Otherwise, the small lynx was healthy.

She was given two anti-parasite shots and a shot of penicillin, “for the road,” said Friedenberg.

Tucked back in her nesting box, Friedenberg gave her a shot to counteract the anesthetic, and Rivard covered her with a fuzzy blanket, to keep her warm.

Housed in a small cage, several feet off the ground, the lynx is fed a pound of rabbit a day.

“She’s a bit unusual,” said Rivard, who’s housed roughly 40 lynx since ‘99.

“She’s a bit shy and spends a lot of time in her nesting box.”

The big males are usually more aggressive, growling and swatting at the cage, he said.

“The lynx are happy here; there are lots of rabbits and squirrels running around, and they can hear the owls hooting at night.”

Although fond of big wild cats, Rivard has no domestic cats of his own.

“My wife’s allergic to them,” he said with a smile.

Over the next few years, Colorado plans to reintroduce more Yukon lynx to remote reaches of the state.

“They want our lynx ‘cause we have experienced trappers up here who bring in quality cats, injury free,” said Slama.

In the ‘80s, the Yukon also participated in a lynx reintroduction program in New York’s Adirondacks, but it was not successful.

“They didn’t collar the lynx, so there was no way of tracking them, and because of the numerous roads in the area, many where hit by cars,” said Slama.

In Colorado only 11 lynx are known to have died from collisions with vehicles.

Since ’99 Colorado has received 204 lynx from Canada, and the state has recorded 78 lynx mortalities.

“But in the last three years we’ve had 104 lynx kittens born,” said Lewandowski.

Following radio and satellite signals from collared mother lynx, experts are able to discover dens and kittens.

“If we notice a female is inactive for a while, we go check on her and often find her litter,” said Lewandowski.

Although the kittens are too small to collar, they are micro-chipped and blood samples are taken for later identification.

“Colorado has an excellent cat program; they’re very conscientious, and do frequent follow-ups” said Slama.

“And it’s constantly changing the protocol, when required, for a high survival rate.”

“Thanks for raising those cats for us, we appreciate it,” said Lewandowski.

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