Colorado lynx have made an impressive comeback thanks to reintroduction efforts, and now the next stage in the long term survival of the big cats is being monitored by state biologists.
Originally native to the state of Colorado, lynx vanished from the state by sometime in the 1970s. More recently, beginning in 1999, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) began efforts to reintroduce the lynx to southwest Colorado where the rugged San Juan mountains provide the perfect habitat for the cats.
Early in the reintroduction process, biologists kept track of the lynx through specially outfitted radio tracking collars. Those have since stopped working and so biologists needed a new method to monitor the population.
The hope all along was that the lynx would successfully reproduce and even expand to other areas. That plan has been deemed a success as there are now several generations roaming the wilds of the high country. Moving forward, the hope is that Colorado lynx will continue to thrive, but without current data, it will be impossible for the biologists to know exactly what is happening with the animals.
"Our broad objective with this work is to determine if the general population trend of lynx is increasing or decreasing in Colorado," said Scott Wait, the senior terrestrial biologist for CPW's southwest region in Durango.
To monitor the Colorado lynx population from afar, biologists will install numerous game cameras in 50 randomly selected survey sites. Additionally, researchers will travel to several of the sites throughout the winter during prime tracking season.
When snow is on the ground, finding and following lynx tracks is relatively easy except for the rugged terrain they are usually found in. Biologists will collect genetic samples of hair and scat which will allow them to verify that they are indeed from lynx, as well as catalog individual animals genetically. Wait said;
This type of long-term monitoring program has never been done in the United States. This may give us information that no one has ever had.
The main challenge faced by researchers is the rugged terrain favored by the lynx. Their primary prey is the snowshoe hare which means biologists have to travel to the subalpine forest, as well as areas near streams with lots of willows.
"Long-term studies such as this are necessary to gain a better understanding of wildlife and the variety of environments in Colorado where they live. This type of work helps us to sustain Colorado's invaluable wildlife resources," said Wait.