DOW Begins 2004 Lynx Releases

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The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) will begin its 2004 lynx releases Saturday in southwestern Colorado as part of the agency’s long-term effort to restore the native cat to Colorado.

Four lynx will be released on Saturday north of Wolf Creek Pass. By the end of April, a total of 37 lynx captured in Quebec and British Columbia will be released into the high-alpine forests of the San Juan Mountains.

“These lynx will go into the core reintroduction area where previous releases have occurred,” said Rick Kahn, coordinator of the agency’s lynx reintroduction program. “The lynx released this year will find habitat that’s already occupied by animals we released in previous years, increasing the likelihood that they’ll adapt and establish territories.”

The DOW reintroduction program began in 1999 with the release of 41 lynx, followed by 55 more in 2000 and 33 in 2003. Up to 50 more lynx will be released in 2005, and another 15 may be released in 2006 and 2007.

“Our goal is to have a high enough population density to allow a self-sustaining population of lynx to become established in Colorado,” Kahn explained. “If the density is too low, it makes it much less likely that there will be sufficient reproduction to allow the population to become established.”

DOW tracking crews confirmed the birth of at least 16 kittens to six lynx mothers last spring, the first time reproduction has been documented. The births marked an important milestone for the reintroduction effort. Wildlife managers had previously confirmed other important milestones including lynx establishing territories and finding ample prey.

This winter, tracking crews led by researcher Tanya Shenk confirmed that at least six of the kittens have made it through the winter and are already hunting on their own. The trackers have also seen tracks and other evidence suggesting that female lynx that can no longer be tracked because their radio collars have failed may have had kittens as well.

“We have confirmed that four of the six females that had kittens last spring were still with the kittens later this winter,” Shenk said.

“We are already seeing breeding behavior with at least 11 pairs of males and females, and we could see kittens this year from mid-May through mid-June,” she said. “Some of these are the same pairs that produced kittens last year.”

The lynx to be released this month were captured earlier this year in Quebec and British Columbia, and then brought to Colorado, said Scott Wait, the DOW’s area biologist in Durango who coordinated with Canadian officials.

“We had hoped to have as many as 50 lynx to release, but extreme cold in Manitoba didn’t allow them to capture any lynx this year,” Wait said.

Prior to their release, the lynx are housed at a private facility near the San Luis Valley where they are fed and examined to be sure they are in peak condition when they are released into the wild. Releases occur in April to provide enough time to ensure the lynx are in top condition and to coincide with the spring emergence of prey species that increase the chances for lynx to survive.

Lynx once inhabited much of Colorado’s high country, but human activity and habitat changes lead to the extirpation of the species around the state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The last confirmed lynx was illegally trapped near Vail in 1972.