Biologists listening for pitter-patter of little feet |

Biologists listening for pitter-patter of little feet

Allen Best

It’s springtime in the Rockies, and wildlife researchers have found evidence of “catting around” in the woods. But will Canada lynx kittens come of it? That’s the unknown.

“We don’t have absolute proof that they have been breeding, but all the circumstantial evidence points to it,” said Tanya Shenk, wildlife researcher for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Dreamy eyes? Unusually long lunch hours? Disheveled ear tufts?

Nope, but because the lynx still have radio collars that allow monitoring of their whereabouts by telemetry, researchers known that seven or eight lynx pairs have consorted. Lynx aren’t consorting sorts except during mating season, which begins in mid-March and continues for about a month.

But none of this adds up to breeding itself, and that evidence – lynx kittens – won’t arrive until mid-May to mid-June. Gestation is 73 days. If kittens are born, they will be helpless for the first month, which means the mothers will likewise be immobile. When those radio collars start indicating stationary mothers, that will be the clue to researchers to go into the woods to see for themselves.

This interest in feisty felines is hardly prurient. One million dollars has been invested in the program that essential bets on whether these cats beget more cats. Convinced that Colorado’s lynx population had either disappeared altogether or was too small to reproduce, state wildlife authorities released 96 lynx into the San Juan Mountains in 1999 and 2000.

Mortality was expected, and it has occurred, initially at a greater rate than wildlife researchers had hoped or predicted. Altogether, 40 of the 96 initial lynx are known to be dead, the victims of starvation, roadkill, shootings, the

plague or unknown causes. That leaves 56 possible lynx in Colorado.

Of those 56 lynx, researchers continue to track 39. Some have cached portions of snowshoe hare, evidence that they have been eating well, while

also occasionally preying upon red squirrels and pine martens. One male lynx managed to kill at least one and possibly two coyotes.

But even if there is sufficient food for the lynx, say biologists, the population will not survive unless reproduction begins, additional lynx are

transplanted into Colorado, or both. One of the problems of reproduction is

that lynx are such far-ranging animals, and most of them are in the topographically rugged San Juan Mountains. There is no Yahoo Personals

Web site to connect lonely-heart lynx.

Most of the lynx being monitored are in the area from New Mexico north to

Gunnison, and from Monarch Pass west to Taylor Mesa. A few are as far north as Interstate 70, but none now to the north of I-70.

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