Lynx killed on Highway 9 despite locals’ efforts
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
A band of local good Samaritans did all they could to save a radio-collared lynx hit by a car on Colorado 9 Friday, but the cat died a short time later at the Frisco Animal Hospital after suffering severe injuries to its pelvis and spine.
The lynx was hit near Tiger Road, not far from a spot where a planned underpass could one day ease the way for critters trying to cross the highway.
On his way to work about 7:45 a.m., veterinarian Paul Veralli was one of the first passers-by to stop at the scene after noticing cars pulling off the side of the road and the wounded animal in the path of oncoming traffic.
“The tufts on her ears were this long,” Veralli said, shaking his head and holding his thumb and forefinger about two inches apart.
“I’ve never seen an animal that was more elegant or more beautiful … and to know it was once an inhabitant of this area,” he said as he described how he and other local citizens tried to get the lynx off the road and to the clinic.
When he first stopped, there was a young woman in the road trying to direct cars away from the wounded animal Veralli said.
The injured cat, which Veralli by then had realized was a lynx, dragged itself to the side of the road.
“It was in shock and couldn’t move its back legs,” he said.
Veralli called his assistants at the animal hospital and also initiated calls to the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Colorado State Patrol.
After getting permission to move the cat, he and other onlookers were able to get the lynx into a cage.
“What I noticed was how many people stopped and were willing to help,” Veralli said, adding that at least 20 people tried to aid the hurt animal.
Among those stopping was Susan Fairweather, who arrived just a few minutes after Veralli.
A former firefighter, Fairweather said she took over traffic control from Veralli, who concentrated on trying to help the wounded cat.
Along with people who stopped to help, Fairweather said a number of people driving by made obscene gestures, apparently irritated by the traffic slowdown.
“I got flipped off. A couple of people who were stuck in traffic were obviously livid,” Fairweather said. “They need to go live somewhere else, because in this county, we stop and help.”
Fairweather’s daugher, Annalisa Andrews, was one of the last people to see the lynx before it got hit.
Traveling south from her Peak 7 home toward Frisco, Andrews said she saw the cat approaching the highway from the west, crossing the recpath.
“I was hoping it wouldn’t try to cross the highway,” Andrews said. “It got half way across, then when I saw it again, it was struggling.”
Andrews said she stopped immediately, almost at the same time as Veralli.
“We didn’t want anyone else running over it,” she said, describing the efforts to divert traffic around the injured lynx.
Veralli took the lynx to the animal hospital and tried to determine the extent of the injuries. X-rays showed the cat had a broken spine and smashed pelvis, he said.
Shortly after he took the X-rays, the lynx died at the animal hospital, he said.
“We see heartbreak here all the time, but it was heartbreaking to see an animal of this magnificence dying … and that we couldn’t help it,” Veralli said.
Including Friday’s death, 13 lynx have been killed by collisions with cars, and another 13 have been illegally shot since the Colorado Division of Wildlife started re-introducing the cats from Alaska and Canada.
Human-caused deaths have been one of the leading causes of lynx mortality, according to state wildlife biologists.
But the wildlife agency’s annual report also explains that lynx deaths have stayed within the expected range for an ambitious re-introduction program.
The Summit County cat will likely be taken to Colorado State University in Fort Collins for a full necropsy, said division of wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski.
Biologists will determine the exact cause of death and examine the animal’s overall health, he said.
Local lynx sightings have become more frequent in recent months as a secondary core population becomes established on the boundary of the White River and Pike-San Isabel national forests, around Leadville, Aspen and Tennessee Pass.
Lynx have been photographed in the Tenmile Range, near Francie’s Cabin and near the town of Blue River in the past few months.
Despite the sad ending to the rescue attempt, Veralli said he appreciated the chance to get such a close look at a lynx.
“This creature is built for action. She was lean and mean and well-muscled,” he said, describing the cat as otherwise healthy and well-fed. The X-rays showed fragments of bone in its stomach, suggesting the lynx had eaten recently.
“It’s sad, but there’s some good news,” said Tanya Shenk, lead biologist for the state re-introduction program.
“It’s evidence some of our missing animals are out there and doing well,” Shenk said, explaining that the cat, released in the San Juans in 2003, hadn’t been spotted since June 2004 after its transmitting collar probably malfuntioned.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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