DOW Confirms More Lynx Kittens

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Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) trackers have confirmed there were at least six more lynx kittens born in Colorado last spring than initially thought, bringing the 2004 known total to 36.

“We have now documented 13 litters for the 2004 reproduction season with a total of 36 kittens,” said Tanya Shenk, the DOW’s lead lynx researcher. “From snow tracking this month we determined a female we suspected had given birth does have two kittens with her.”

Earlier this fall, the DOW also confirmed sightings by southwest Colorado residents of a female with four kittens, Shenk added.

In 2003, Shenk’s team located 16 kittens born to six females. At least 52 lynx have now been born in Colorado since the initial release in 1999.

Shenk’s tracking team had suspected that some elusive females might have had kittens earlier this year. But batteries on radio collars have run down on some lynx, and at least one potential mother was especially wary and managed to stay a few paw prints ahead of the trackers in the steep, rugged terrain at 10,000 feet elevation amid Colorado’s remote San Juan Mountains.

The discovery of more kittens is the latest positive news in the DOW’s ongoing lynx recovery efforts.

“We have already received 16 lynx from Quebec that will be released next April in the core recovery area in southwestern Colorado,” said Scott Wait, the DOW’s Durango area terrestrial biologist.

“Trapping in British Columbia, the Yukon Territory and Manitoba will begin in January,” said Wait, who coordinates with Canadian officials to acquire lynx for reintroduction to Colorado. “Our goal is to receive between 40 and 50 lynx for release next spring.”

The Canadian trappers are paid by the DOW to capture the lynx and hold them safely until they are transported to Colorado via commercial flights. DOW wildlife managers then drive the lynx to the Frisco Creek Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Center south of Del Norte where they are fed and cared for to assure they’re in peak condition before their release.

DOW biologists have been pleased both with the births and the survival of individual lynx, including kittens.

“Of the 13 litters we have now documented from this year, only three have failed,” Shenk said. The survival rate is noteworthy because of the high mortality the species periodically faces in the northern portion of its native range.

In Canada, lynx populations rise and fall dramatically during 10-year cycles that have been documented since the early 19th century through trapping records.

“Lynx prey almost exclusively on snowshoe hares,” Wait explained. “When the hare population crashes as it typically does about once a decade, the lynx population follows. Then as snowshoe hares recover, the lynx population again increases in response.”

In Quebec, the population crash has begun and most of the lynx in some areas of the province will die this winter.

The wild Quebec cats captured in early December are thriving in their individual enclosures at the DOW’s holding facility, feasting on rabbits and other favorite foods provided to them. By the time they’re released, the lynx will also receive complete physicals to assure they’re healthy.

The DOW tracking crew, extremely fit temporary employees who are comfortable in Colorado’s most challenging terrain, will work through March. They first located cats by monitoring radio signals picked up by technicians flying in DOW aircraft or from a satellite that records signals from each lynx once each week.

DOW aircraft also fly regularly to record the radio signals emitted by the collars.