The Eurasian lynx was once widely distributed on the European continent. By the end of the 19th century it was hunted remorseless and eradicated. Only in the Carpathians, the Balkan states and in Scandinavia, Lynx lynx survived. In Austria, the last lynx was killed in 1918 in the Bregenzerwald. More than 100 years later, Austria nominates the lynx as animal of the year 2022, symbolizing an animal which is still having troubles to repopulate its old homeland.
The lynx is very territorial and therefore not very successful in repopulating new areas. Hence, many countries started actions to release lynxes to support the national lynx populations. In the Alps, the first release attempts started in Switzerland, followed by Austria, Italy, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. These attempts were more or less successfully, as all of them were lacking a common concept. The genetic variability was also quite low, as all of the released animals originated from the Carpathians. The last releases in Austria were taking place in 2017 in the Nationalpark Kalkalpen. Anyway, about 10.000 lynxes are currently living in Europe.
The lynx in Austria
With 50% of the country covered by forests, Austria would provide enough convenient habitats for the lynx. There would also be enough prey, for example red deer. Austria plays an important role as connecting country for the whole European lynx population.
Austria results in being a difficult place for the lynx. Many animals have been shot illegally, ending as a trophy somewhere in the basement. As the populations are still very small, each lost individual can lead to a breakdown of the whole population. Highways, game fences, agricultural areas and human settlements are splitting their habitats, making migration and genetic exchange with lynxes from other populations impossible. Yet, this is crucial for a viable population in the long term.
Austria is sharing two trans-border lynx populations: One in the Western Alps with some individuals coming from Switzerland and one in the Bohemian Forest, a population of about 23 animals together with Bavaria and the Czech Republic. A very small and isolated population with about 6 animals is existing in the Nationalpark Kalkalpen. According to a study of the University of Freiburg, the possibility of extinction for the Austrian-German-Czech-population is reaching a critical point due to illegal killings in the region.
The possibility that the population will go extinct again is going up to 74% in the most unfavorable case.
According to the IUCN, this risk is far too high for the requirements of a viable population.
Secret way of life
The lynx needs about 2 kg of meat per day, or 50 roe deer per year on average. Besides, they feed on chamois, boar, rabbits, squirrels and other small mammals and birds. Lynxes have territories of 100 up to 450 km2, always depending on prey density. Males have larger territories than females. They are not dangerous for humans in any way, as they are avoiding humans in general. They live hidden in the forests, masked by their fur pattern and having highly sensitive senses.
The lynx has to be accepted as part of the natural ecosystem. Illegal killing of the lynx should be consequently chased. To guarantee reproduction success, migrating corridors in the Alps and along borders need to be established. In Austria, the Asfinag, the cooperation operating streets and highways, wants to establish 16 more wildlife crossings to expand migrating corridors for wild animals. Many initiatives cooperate to connect single biotopes and habitats.
There are also some positive news for the lynx in Austria: After more than 100 years, a male and a female lynx have been documented in the area of the Hochschwab/Rax/Schneeberg in a protected forest near the city of Vienna in January 2021!
Above all, the lynx needs human acceptance to establish long-term populations in Austria and all over Europe.