Biologists say journey shows importance of habitat connectivity on landscape level
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — A lynx that was captured in Canada and transplanted to Colorado in 2003 decided to move back home — only to end up dying this past January in a line trap near Banff National Park.
The Montreal Gazette reported on the story via Canwest News Service, describing how a Canadian trapper called a local wildlife biologist to break the news that he had accidentally trapped a collared lynx.
During the past 10 years, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has brought more than 200 of the cats from Alaska and Canada to the San Juans, where they were acclimated and then released. The lynx dispersed throughout the region; south into New Mexico, west to Utah and even as far east as Iowa, but this male set the distance record with a 2,000-kilometer trek back to very near the area where it was trapped.
Colorado wildlife biologist Rick Thompson, who has studied lynx for many years, said such far-reaching movements are part of the species’ biology.
“These types of movements used to be considered really exceptional,” he said. But scientific literature shows that the trip is not unprecedented. Generally, such long-range movements are tough to document, because it requires having a lynx that is tagged, or outfitted with an electronic collar.
Thompson said the journey shows that, even though lynx face landscape obstacles like highways, towns, reservoirs and natural habitat fragmentation, they are survivors and will do what it takes to find food.
A number of lynx have been killed in collisions with cars on I-70 since the re-introduction program began.
Along with looking for food, long-distance movements are also important to maintaining genetic diversity in the species, he said.
According to biologists, the lynx apparently found plenty to eat along the way — it was in good body condition when it was trapped in Canada. Tanya Shenk, lead biologist in the reintroduction effort, said the male established a home range near Silverton and mated with a female that raised at least six healthy kittens between 2005 and 2007.
State biologists track the cats via satellite and fly-overs, and this lynx — BC-03-M-02 — at some point disappeared from view. The code is based on the animal’s place of origin, year of capture, sex and identification number.
According to Shenk’s interview with Canwest News Service, the cat’s journey shows the importance of maintaining long-distance movement corridors along the length of the Rockies that connect genetically diverse animal populations and patches of habitat.
Conservation groups have said those connections are especially important in the context of climate change and large-scale landscape impacts like the pine beetle infestation that has dramatically changed wildlife habitat in just a short time. In order for wide-ranging species like lynx to adapt to those impacts they need to be able to move in order to find suitable food and denning areas.