Saving the Invisible Balkan Lynx

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The Balkan Lynx (a subspecies of the Eurasian Lynx) retains a mythic quality to locals, an unsurprising fact given that their current population is estimated at 19-36. Last year, the Balkan Lynx showed up on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered, reflecting the subspecies’ fragility and potential for extinction: none of the animals are currently in captivity, and their only known breeding grounds are Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia and the Munela Mountains in Albania.

Sadly, the Balkan Lynx has faced significant threats for years, from illegal poaching and hunting to shrinking habitats and prey populations. In 2006, Germany’s EuroNatur and Switzerland’s KORA founded the Balkan Lynx Recovery Program (BLRP), to track and collect conservation data on the population. After four years of tracking, camera trapping, and interviewing locals, BLRP field biologists spotted their first Balkan Lynx: “One of the most exciting days in my entire life has to be the day we saw the first photo of a lynx from the camera traps. Can you imagine how it felt… to finally have confirmation that the lynx does live in Macedonia?” said BLRP team member  Aleksandar Stojanov.

Recently, regional scientists and volunteers have joined the efforts to research and preserve this lovely yet relatively unknown creature, with support from regional and international conservation organizations (MES in Macedonia, PPNEA in Albania, ERA and Finch in Kosovo and CZIPin Montenegro, as well as EuroNatur, KORA and NINA from Norway). “Our cooperation with many stakeholders – especially hunters – opened the doors to more detailed research and conservation attempts for this cat and its prey. Our next step will be to downlist the Balkan Lynx to the category of Endangered; this means raising the population from the current 19-37 individuals to more than 50,” said Dime Melovski, another member of the MES BLRP team.

This collaborative effort has produced significant data, but scientists say there is much more to be done: “While this is an amazing scientific achievement for us, we have no time to celebrate, the Balkan Lynx needs even more visibility and dedicated support. However, we are encouraged because the IUCN Red List provides ‘political’ recognition and global publicity,” Melovski added. In fact, Albania and Kosovo have gone so far as to create new national parks to protect the Balkan Lynx’s breeding grounds. However, Macedonia has not taken the same steps, increasing MES’s efforts to raise national awareness and support and to lobby for the establishment of protected areas in Macedonia. In the end, it will take support on both local and large-scale levels to save the rare beauty of the Balkan Lynx.

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Source: Putilin, Kenija. “How do you save a species that is almost impossible to track?” BirdLife, 12 April, 2016.

 

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