«Quo vadis Lynx?» – Conference and Workshop

From May 10 to12, some 60 experts from continental Europe met in Wöltingerode in the German Harz Mountains to hold a conference and to discuss the concepts and cooperation for the conservation of the Carpathian lynx in West and Central Europe in a workshop. The Carpathian lynx was originally restricted to the Carpathian Mountains. Reintroduction projects have used this subspecies of the Eurasian lynx to restore the former lynx range.  Hence a broad and sensible cooperation between all West- and Central European countries is needed to secure the long-term survival of the metapopulation of Carpathian lynx.

The Workshop

Subsequent to the conference «Quo vadis lynx?» a workshop with the title «Expert Workshop on the Conservation of the Carpathian Lynx in West and Central Europe» took place, which was held in celebration of the anniversary of the reintroduction of the lynx in the Harz Mountains. It was a follow-up to the Bonn Conference in 2019, which had then led to the Recommendation no. 204 (2019) of the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention. This recommendation addressed a number of challenges with regard to the conservation of the autochthonous population in the Carpathians and the recovery of the lynx in the areas of West and Central Europe where the species went extinct in the past centuries. The Workshop was organised by the National Park Harz Mountains and the Alfred Toepfer Academy for Nature Conservation in cooperation with the IUCN Cat Specialist Group, the Foundation KORA, the Landesjagdverband Niedersachsen, and the HIT Umwelt- und Naturschutz Stiftung under the auspice of the Bern Convention.

The recommendation

The largest population of the Carpathian lynx exists in Romania, followed by Slovakia. The lynx is also widespread in the Ukrainian Carpathians, but most likely at very low densities so that the connectivity along the Carpathian Range is questionable. Ukrainian colleagues were invited to the meeting, but were only able to attend through video connections due to the war. Further neighbouring countries host smaller populations of the Carpathian lynx. The transboundary and range-wide conservation of the lynx in the Carpathians needs to be strengthened and the connectivity of the national populations needs to be improved. The experts recommend therefore to engage with all Range Countries to develop a common Conservation Strategy, which can subsequently be implemented through National Action Plans.

Attendants at the lynx workshop in Wöltingerode, Harz, listen to the online presentation on the situation of the Carpathian lynx in the Ukraine. (© Ole Anders)

Carpathian lynx as a source population

Strengthening the Carpathian population is not at least important as it should continue to serve as a source population for the recovery across the mountainous areas of West and Central Europe. The Carpathian lynx was used for reintroduction projects in this region for more than 50 years, and for genetic and ecological reasons, the experts at the workshop recommended to continue this approach and to build one huge metapopulation of Carpathian lynx in the mountainous zone of continental Europe. All populations reintroduced in the past decades are still isolated, and many of them suffer from increasing inbreeding as a consequence of too few founder individuals and the persisting isolation.

The demand

To secure the survival of the reintroduced populations and to recover the species across the designated range in continental Europe, further reintroduction projects are needed, and the remnant populations need to be reinforced to mitigate loss of genetic diversity.

Orphan lynxes and zoo animals as sources

Such an approach needs a range wide cooperation and coordination, e.g. with regard to distributing the lynx from the various source populations in an effective and sensible way. Beyond the autochthonous Carpathian population – which will not be able to provide an unlimited number of founder individuals – two other sources were identified: Orphaned lynx from free living populations and Carpathian lynx bred in zoological institutions specifically for the purpose of being released. Orphaned lynx can be rehabilitated and used for translocations, but not all orphans are suited for being released. They need to fulfil a number of health, genetic and behavioural preconditions to be used for reintroductions or reinforcements. The expert group has therefore formed a number of working groups to address questions related to sourcing, genetics, health and behaviour, and is developing best-practice protocols to standardise the approaches and concepts, but also practical aspects such as transport and quarantine.

Acceptance and consensus as a precondition

All these are technical aspects of a recovery programme. However, before such a project can be tackled, societal and political consensus needs to be reached to pave the ground for the return of the lynx. At the Harz workshop, specific working groups therefore addressed the best ways on how to engage with authorities and decision makers and, respectively, the local people and key stakeholder groups. The Carpathian Lynx Working Group now maintains 6 groups for continued discussion, namely on Sourcing, Genetics, Health, Monitoring, Policy, and Stakeholder Engagement. All these groups are developing specific protocols, which will then be integrated into comprehensive Guidelines to be submitted to the international community and all countries in the realm of the Carpathian lynx.