First Canadian Lynx For Reintroduction Arrive

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Four lynx captured in eastern Canada arrived in Colorado on Monday night, the first of up to 50 lynx the Division of Wildlife (DOW) will reintroduce next spring in its ongoing effort to re-establish the native species in Colorado?s high country.

"This is a critical step in Colorado's effort to take the lead on recovering endangered species," said Greg Walcher, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. "Lynx is the most visible and closely watched example of our new approach to recovering species by re-introducing them into the wild, an approach we are also taking on fish, birds and other species."

The four lynx, captured in Quebec earlier this month, arrived aboard an Air Canada jet at Denver International Airport. After an inspection and clearing customs, the lynx were driven to a holding facility in southern Colorado, where they'll spend the next three months to ensure that they are in prime condition for release.

More lynx are expected later this month and in January from British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec.

"The weather has made it difficult for trappers in Canada, and it's unclear whether we'll receive all 50 lynx we?ve asked for," said Scott Wait, the DOW's area biologist in Durango. "We still have more than a month of trapping, so there's still time to get all we?ve requested."

DOW wildlife managers plan to release the lynx next April at sites adjacent to the Weminuche Wilderness Area and in the San Juan National Forest. The reintroduction plan, approved Nov. 15 by the Colorado Wildlife Commission, calls for up to 180 lynx to be reintroduced to southwestern Colorado over the next five to six years, including up to 50 in each of the next three years.

During their stay at the facility, the lynx will be fed, examined and cared for. The spring release date is timed so that many hibernating species will just be emerging and young of the year are available as prey when the lynx begin to hunt.

Lynx are a native Colorado cat that once occupied higher elevation areas of the state. A combination of factors, however, resulted in lynx disappearing from the state. The last confirmed lynx were illegally trapped in Eagle County in 1973 in a case where a DOW wildlife officer cited the trapper and recovered the dead lynx. The animal is now on display in a glass case at an Avon condominium facility.

While there have been numerous reports of possible sightings and lynx tracks since then, no known native lynx remain in the state.

The DOW's decision to reintroduce lynx is part of the agency's mission and legacy of restoring Colorado's native wildlife, from game species such as elk, pronghorn and cutthroat trout to peregrine falcons, river otters and boreal toads.

The effort also gives Colorado greater control over any possible federal restrictions that could be imposed in the state to protect potential lynx habitat.

The Division reintroduced 96 lynx to the state in 1999 and 2000. The intensive monitoring and research that followed has allowed Colorado biologists to literally write the textbook on lynx biology and recovery in the lower 48 states.

"We've established four of the seven criteria in Colorado for establishing a viable population of lynx," said Tanya Shenk, the DOW's chief lynx researcher. "These include developing successful release protocols, having lynx survive for extended periods in the wild, having lynx establish territories and the onset of breeding behavior. But to date, there has been no successful reproduction," she said.

Shenk and other biologists inside and outside Colorado think the most likely reason is that there simply aren't enough lynx to establish a population.

"Bringing in additional lynx will allow us to determine whether this theory that there aren't enough lynx is correct," said Division wildlife biologist Rick Kahn.