KORA

LUNO 2001-2009

After a positive statement from the cantonal administration in November 2000 the parliament of St. Gallen approved the postulate Trionfini for the reintroduction of the lynx in the canton St. Gallen. Thereafter, the federal office for the environment and the five cantons Zurich, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden started the project “Lynx translocation Northeast Switzerland LUNO”. The lynx originated from the Northwest Alps and the Jura.

KORA was responsible for the lynx captures, the translocations and the monitoring of the lynx after their release in northeastern Switzerland. The first stage of the project with the intensive monitoring of the translocated lynx is presented in two reports: Ryser et al. 2004 (KORA Bericht Nr. 22) and Robin & Nigg 2005 (Luchsumsiedlung Nordostschweiz LUNO. Bericht über die Periode 2001 bis 2003. Schriftenreihe Umwelt Nr. 377. Bundesamt für Umwelt).

The monitoring of the small lynx population in northeast Switzerland became part of the general lynx monitoring for the whole of Switzerland in 2009. In this regard, chance observations and opportunistically collected pictures are gathered and analysed. Every three years we conduct systematic camera trap monitoring session. 

LUNO - Lynx translocation Northeast Switzerland 2001-2009

Release of Wero © Andreas Ryser

Capture and releases

Between 2001 and 2008 seven lynx from the Northwest Alps and five from the Jura were translocated into Northeast Switzerland. We captured the animals with box traps or with snares or a remotely controlled blow pipe on kills. All animals were put in quarantine after the capture. Collaborators from the Centre for Fish and Wild Animal Medicine looked after the lynx during the quarantine. Before the release they were again medically examined and radio collared for their observation in the LUNO area. 

Home ranges and dispersal

Location of lynx home ranges in Northeast Switzerland a few months before the release. Red = females, blue = males. © KORA

Within a few months the translocated lynx settled into neighbouring home ranges which generally correspond to the spatial structure of an established lynx population. A female, however, crossed the Lindth plain southwest and settled in the cantons Glarus and Schwyz (compartment IV). A male connected to the lynx population in the compartment II after one year of wandering. He had at one point gone into the city Zurich and stayed for four months on the Zurich hill directly by the city. The average home range of a female was 100 km2, that of males 172 km2

Prey species

A European hare killed by a lynx in Toggenburg SG. It ususally takes two nights for a lynx to consume a European Hare. © Andreas Ryser

During the monitoring stage of the lynx, which was very intensive in the first three years, we could document thanks to radio telemetry 206 prey species: 150 roe deer (73%) and 45 chamois (22%). Occasionally killed species were fox (4), European hare (5) and marmots (2). Opportunistically found lynx kills confirmed by us or the game wardens were: 127 roe deer, 17 chamois, one European hare and one fox, as well as one marmot and two domestic goats. Eleven rabbits and two guinea pigs were killed by two orphaned young lynx which tried to escape starvation by killing easy prey close to humans. At least one of these young, B168, survived the winter but was run over in the following spring. 

Reproduction

Nura with her two young above Amden SG 2005. © Andreas Ryser

Between the first reproduction in the translocation area in 2002 and the end of the systematic camera trap monitoring in the winter 2011/2012 we observed 16 litters with at least 31 young. Of these only 11 animals (4 still with their mothers) were still alive at the end of April 2012. We lack data from the other 20 lynx born in Northeast Switzerland. At least one subadult lynx (B132) dispersed from the compartment and settled 200 km south in Italian Parco Naturale Adamello Brenta. Another dispersing subadult from a known female (NOIA) was run over in Landquart (canton Grisons) in 2008. Three females born in CII and two males have already reproduced again. Of the 12 translocated lynx from the Northwest Alps and the Jura at least four females had kittens (from three males). One subadult male lynx dispersed in 2011/12 from the compartment I (Jura) through the canton Thurgau along the west border of the Lake Constance in the Rhine Valley and thus into the lynx population. Whether it reproduced is still open. 

Fate of the translocated lynx

Female lynx ALMA in February 2012. © KORA

Of the 12 translocated lynx we know the fate of four animals: ALMA and possibly NOIA still live in northeastern Switzerland, VINO died in 2003, AYLA was run over in 2004 and WERO was found dead in 2010. The other seven lynx disappeared with no evidence: Aura, Baya, Roco and Odin were not recorded again after the failure of the collars; Turo, Nura and Aika were still pictured for three, four and six years respectively, after losing their collars. 

Evaluation of the translocation

Young lynx pictured in February 2012. It is a grandchild of the translocated female lynx ALMA from the Jura. © KORA

The fact that we recorded during the camera trap monitoring 2012, 10 independent lynx and 4 young lynx (from two females) 12 years after the start of the project indicates a sign for optimism.  However, the population of north-eastern Switzerland is still small and even a single loss could have a high impact on the population development. Therefore, the long-term perspective of the population in north-eastern Switzerland also depends on population development in the adjacent regions. The observation of a young male lynx which dispersed from the Bernese Jura to the Northeast Switzerland, as well as at least two young lynx which appeared in the canton Grisons, illustrates this dependence and shows that compartment boundaries are in single cases penetrable in both directions.

The project LUNO should therefore also be seen in an international context. In the last ten years the lynx could only considerably expand its range in the area of Northeast Switzerland. The LUNO population can be a stepping stone in the direction towards the eastern Alps, however evidence of dispersal in this direction is still missing.

Although that the project LUNO is as a reintroduction  a moderate project with few animals, it is as a management and species conservation project in regard to the lynx situation in Switzerland and the Alps very valuable. In this regard repeated small and spatially focused reintroductions will be critical for the future of the lynx in the Alpine region.