DOW Trackers Find Lynx Kittens

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Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) tracking crews found seven lynx kittens born to two mothers over the Memorial Day weekend, marking the second year in a row reproduction has been documented in the agency’s ongoing reintroduction program.

A Yukon female released in 2000 was found May 29 with four healthy kittens beneath the roots of a live Engelmann spruce at 11,000 feet in a rugged, remote area of southwestern Colorado. An Alaskan female released in 2000 was discovered on May 31 with three healthy kittens hidden away in downed timber in a forest of Englemann spruce and subalpine fir at 11,000 feet in the same general area.

Last year DOW trackers confirmed that at least 16 lynx kitten had been born in Colorado, the first recorded births since lynx were first released in 1999. Neither of the lynx that had kittens this spring gave birth last year.

“This is another important milestone in our ongoing effort to restore lynx to the state,” said Rick Kahn, coordinator of the DOW’s lynx recovery team. “The kittens born this year are another strong indication that the lynx we have released are establishing a population that has the potential to expand and become self-sustaining in the future.”

Kahn emphasized that while the program has accomplished many key goals, two more important milestones must occur before the recovery effort can be called a success.

“The next step will be for lynx born in Colorado to have young of their own,” Kahn said. “The entire effort won’t be complete until the number of lynx that live to be adults exceeds the number of mortalities each year.”

Led by researcher Tanya Shenk, the tracking crew used radio-tracking equipment in DOW aircraft to locate the females. Then they hiked or snowshoed into the area and used hand-held equipment that picked up signals emitted from the collars worn by the lynx mothers. The four kittens found on May 29—three females and a male—were found with their mother on the edge of a band of cliffs that dropped off to a steep talus slope, Shenk said. The crew used snowshoes in extremely rugged terrain to reach the site.

Two Yukon males released in 2000 were tracked in the area, so one is likely the father. Males and females are together only during the mating season.

The three kittens found on May 31—two females and a male—were with their mother in what Shenk described as “very classic lynx denning habitat. There were lots of snowshoe hares in the area.” Snowshoe hares are the primary prey of lynx, particularly during the winter when other prey species are less abundant.

Shenk said a British Columbian male released in 1999 with distinctive white feet had been documented in the area and there were signs that another male with an inoperable collar was also in the vicinity. Collars stop functioning when the batteries that power them run down.

“The male kitten in the litter has four white feet and the two females have white toes so the British Columbian male is the likely father,” she said.

“We believe their may be more females with kittens this spring and we will continue our efforts to confirm more births,” Shenk said.

The DOW has released 167 lynx in Colorado since the program began in 1999. Up to 50 more lynx will be released next year with another 15 each in 2006 and 2007, said Scott Wait, the DOW’s area biologist in southwestern Colorado.

“We are already working with officials in several Canadian provinces to arrange for the trapping and transport of lynx next winter,” Wait said. So far, lynx have come from British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, the Yukon Territory and Alaska.

Once lynx are captured, they are taken to a private wildlife rehabilitation facility near the San Luis Valley said Chuck Wagner, the area biologist who coordinates DOW efforts while lynx are held until their release.

“The facility has been critical in allowing us to hold lynx so we can be sure they’re in peak condition when they are released,” Wagner said.

Other major milestones in the effort include: • Confirming that lynx can be successfully held, then released;
• Lynx finding adequate prey and establishing territories;
• Mating behavior;
• The birth of kittens;
• The survival of kittens through their first year.

“We intend to continue this program to reestablish this native species in our state,” said Bruce McCloskey, the DOW’s acting director. “This recovery effort is the continuation of a century-old effort to protect and restore native wildlife and protect the habitat these species need to survive.”

If you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Lynx Restoration Project, please visit www.cwhf.info to donate by credit card. Or mail your check or money order to the Colorado Wildlife Heritage Foundation at PO Box 211512, Denver, CO 80221. Help ensure a future for Colorado’s wildlife.