Most probably you will never spot a lynx in the wild. We may see traces of its footprints in the mud or snow. Yet the very thought of a large wildcat watching us from behind a nearby rock stirs the imagination. The forest is more full, diverse and inspiring because of its presence.
What kind of an animal is lynx – the mysterious denizen of our forests?
The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is the largest feral cat living in Europe. The adult animal measures 70–130 cm in length and weighs between 12 to 35 kg. It has a distinctive feline head, which appears bigger due to tufts of longer hair at the sides. There are also distinctive tufts at the end of its triangular ears. The fur is brown with a unique pattern of spots and speckles. Every lynx has a different pattern, just like humans have different fingerprints.
In Europe, the lynx lives in forest habitats. It needs large, dense forest areas to survive and, as an apex predator, plays an important role in the ecosystem. It mostly hunts roe deer, but also feeds on dormice, chamois and red deer calves. As a predator, it maintains healthy populations of wild ungulates, impacting their numbers and behaviour, and thus indirectly protects plant growth.
In Slovenia, the lynx is found mainly in the Dinaric fir-beech forests, which are relatively sparsely populated. The High Dinaric Karst is characterised by karst landforms such as basins, precipices, caves, overhanging rocks and rock formations. The rugged environment suits the lynx very well. Rocks serve as lookout points, and it likes to walk on fallen trunks, along ridge edges, rock-shelters and faults.
It can be found in the areas of Trnovo Forest Plateau, Nanos, Menišija Plateau and Javorník Hills and the forests of Kočevje. Until recently, lynx were extremely rare in the Slovenian Alps.
We have already lost a lynx once
The lynx used to be present throughout Slovenia until it disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century due to overhunting and deforestation. In 1973, hunters and foresters reintroduced the species to the Kočevje area and it has successfully spread over large parts of the Dinarides and the eastern Alps. But by the beginning of the new millennium, its existence was endangered once again due to inbreeding. To prevent extinction, 18 lynx from Slovakia and Romania were translocated to Slovenia and Croatia as part of the LIFE Lynx project. For now, the population is safe, but its survival depends largely on us.
What we know, we tend to value more
Education is a key activity in protecting a particular element of nature, as ignorance is often the cause of its endangerment. Nature needs to be brought closer to people so that we can appreciate and admire it and become sensitive to the loss and endangerment of different species. For this purpose, the Lynx Educational Trail was established in Kočevje. It is located near “Koča pri Jelenovem studencu” mountain hut and offers visitors an insight into the life of lynx, the challenges their population is facing and the important role they play in the ecosystem. Ris je krovna vrsta, z varovanjem risa varujemo tudi njegov življenjski prostor in posledično vse ostale rastlinske in živalske vrste, ki so pomembne za zdrav in delujoč ekosistem, od katerega smo odvisni tudi ljudje.
Lynx has already been lost once – let us hope that this time – with a changed attitude towards nature and an awareness of our interconnectedness – we will be able to preserve it.
Sources: Čadež, D., Jankovič, N., Kavčič, I., & Pšeničnik, A. (2023). Didaktična priporočila za risovo pot (1st Edition, p. 19). Faculty of Biotechnology, University of Ljubljana, Department of Biology.
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