- Lynx project – GHD 2020-2023
- Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme
- Completed projects
Lynx research 1983-2015
The largest part of the research in the beginning of KORA was focused on the lynx, which was reintroduced in the Alps in 1971 and in the Jura in 1974. The research and monitoring of the developing population started with the radio-collaring of the first two lynx in March 1983 in the Bernese Oberland. Radio telemetry opened a new dimension in the wild animal research, especially for such elusive and rare animals as the lynx.
From 1983–2015 we have observed lynx in different parts of Switzerland and under different ecological situations. We have followed over one hundred lynx for some parts of their life by radio telemetry. The lynx research in Switzerland up to 2015 can be divided into six different projects with different questions:
1) 1983-88 North-western Alpes I
2) 1985-88 Valais
3) 1988-98 Jura
4) 1997-2001 North-western Alps II
5) 2001-2009 North-eastern Switzerland LUNO
6) 2012-2015 North-western Alps III
CENTRAL SWITZERLAND AND NORTH-WEST ALPS I 1983-1988
The first major telemetry study of the Eurasian lynx delivered pioneering results in regard to its spatial and social structure and prey selection from a total of 11 lynx. At this time the lynx and prey species populations were stable and the influence of the lynx on its prey species was low.
In the Valais, six lynx were radio collared between 1985 and 1988 as a lynx population began dispersing into this region. The government authority claimed a rapid decrease in roe deer and chamois. Haller (1992) documented a high hunting pressure on both species by the lynx in the Turtmanntal. The roe deer even disappeared for a while. This situation was very different from the previous results in the North-western Alps.
Research on the reintroduced population in the Jura started 14 years after the releases, and went on until 1998. The first long-term study of 29 lynx allowed us to collect data in regards to the stability of spatial and social structures, demography and the dispersal of young animals. The large data set allowed for the calculation of the first habitat models. The research on prey selection showed seasonal preferences for different prey species categories. However, the influence on the prey species remained constant over the years.
NORTH-WESTERN ALPS II 1997–2001
From the mid-1990s onwards, depredation of livestock by lynx rose, and observations of lynx increased significantly. During the study period we captured and radio collared 44 lynx. We found a considerably higher density than in the 1980s. The influence on prey species populations was higher than previously observed. The roe deer population was under high pressure due to heavy hunting and a series of harsh winters. Beside spatial and social structure, dispersal and demography, the research of livestock depredation was in the foreground. In 1998, we began using camera traps to estimate the population with the capture-recapture method.
Distribution of resident lynx in the North-western Alps 1997–2000 (blue = males, red = females). Lynx symbols represent animals that were not radio collared, but which were verified by other observations, paws represent the presence of animals presumed to be there based on our advanced understanding of the spatial structure of the known population
(Figure taken from Breitenmoser & Breitenmoser-Würsten 2008).
LUNO – LYNX TRANSLOCATION NORTH-EASTERN SWITZERLAND 2001-2009
As a result of the tense situation concerning the lynx in the north-western Alps at the end of the 1990s, the Swiss Federation developed a new management concept for the management of lynx. The concept allows the removal of damage causing individuals and includes the reduction of high lynx densities through translocations and lethal removal. 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 North-eastern Switzerland LUNO”. The lynx originated from the north-western Alps and the Jura. KORA and FIWI were responsible for the lynx captures, the translocations and the monitoring of the lynx after their release in northeastern Switzerland. The observation of the released individuals by radio telemetry allowed for studying the establishment of a spatial structure, as well as prey selection and hunting behaviour. The monitoring of the small lynx population in north-eastern Switzerland became part of the general lynx monitoring for the whole of Switzerland in 2009. We conduct a deterministic camera trap monitoring session every three to four years.
Capture and releases
Between 2001 and 2008 seven lynx from the Northwest Alps and five from the Jura were translocated to north-eastern Switzerland. 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.
Results and publications
Home ranges and dispersal
Within a few months the translocated lynx settled into neighbouring home ranges which generally corresponds 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. A male connected to the lynx population in north-eastern Switzerland only after one year of wandering. He had at one point gone into the city of 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.
During the monitoring stage of the lynx, 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 KORA 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 survived the winter but was run over in the following spring.
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 were still alive at the end of April 2012. We lack data from the other 20 lynx born in north-eastern Switzerland. At least one subadult lynx dispersed from the compartment and settled 200 km south in the Italian Parco Naturale Adamello Brenta. Another dispersing subadult was run over in Landquart (canton Grisons) in 2008. Three females born in north-eastern Switzerland as well as two males have already reproduced again. Of the 12 translocated lynx from the north-western Alps and the Jura, at least four females had kittens (from three males). One subadult male lynx dispersed in 2011/12 from the Jura through the canton Thurgau, along the western shores of Lake Constance, into the Rhine Valley and thus into the lynx population of north-eastern Switzerland.
Fate of the translocated lynx
Of the 12 translocated lynx we know the fate of four animals: ALMA and possibly NOIA still live in north-eastern 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
The fact that during the camera trap monitoring of 2012, 12 years after the start of the project, we recorded 10 independent lynx and 4 young lynx (from two females), indicates a sign for optimism. A new population core has been founded. 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 north-eastern Switzerland, as well as at least two young lynx which appeared in the canton Grisons, illustrate this dependence.
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 north-eastern 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 the project LUNO as a reintroduction is 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.
More information on the results and conclusions can be found in the following two reports:
- Ryser A., von Wattenwyl K., Ryser-Degiorgis M.-P., Willisch Ch., Zimmermann F. & Breitenmoser U. 2004. Luchsumsiedlung Nordostschweiz 2001-2003. Schlussbericht Modul Luchs des Projektes LUNO. KORA Bericht Nr. 22, 59 pp.
- Robin K. & Nigg H. 2005. Luchsumsiedlung Nordostschweiz LUNO. Bericht über die Periode 2001 bis 2003. Schriftenreihe Umwelt Nr. 377. Bundesamt für Umwelt, Wald und Landschaft, Bern; 53 S.
Location of lynx home ranges in Northeast Switzerland a few months before the release. Red = females, blue = males.
NORTH-WESTERN ALPS III 2012-2015
Conservation and management of the lynx population in the north-western Alps
The lynx population in the Northwest Alps has evolved after the lynx reintroductions from the Slovakian Carpathian Mountains in the cantons of Obwalden and Vaud in the early 1970’s. Until now the Bernese Oberland and the adjoining pre-alps of the cantons Fribourg and Vaud host the most important lynx occurrence across the entire Alpine arc. Although protected by law, the lynx is still subject to controversy with hunters on the impact of lynx on the populations of their prey species. Such controversy hinders the establishment of a population covering the entire Alps. Furthermore, studies have revealed that the lynx population in the Northwest Alps is neither large nor genetically diverse enough to be able to survive long term. The genetic basis of the animals with which 40 years ago the Northwest Alpine population was founded is too small. With around 50 resident animals in the compartment VI North-western Alps, based on the high inbreeding coefficient, the effective population size is estimated at only 20 individuals. Until now, indications of a real inbreeding depression are missing, but the data base of the last field studies in 2001 are weak. As soon as a – desirable for biological reasons – increase in the population becomes apparent, the conflict arises, namely with hunters on the tolerable number of lynx.
Consequently, KORA wanted to study the genetic and veterinary status of the lynx population in the north-western Alps for the third time (after the project phases 1983–86 and 1998–2001). KORA collaborated with the roe deer project of the University of Zurich, which had radio collared roe deer in the study area, to study the impact of lynx on its prey. KORA also worked in cooperation with a project at the University of Basel, which studied the olfactory communication in Eurasian lynx in the north-western Alps (SMEL), and offered additional results on the social behaviour of lynx.
The project aimed to contribute to the conservation of the population, by researching the following aspects and applying the newest methods:
- Demographic, genetic and veterinary status
- Influence of the lynx on the roe deer population
- Spatial-temporal partitioning of the habitat by means of scent marks
- Communication of different stakeholders (e.g. conservationist, hunters) with each other.
KORA applied an interdisciplinary approach and modern field and laboratory methods: by means of GPS-GSM telemetry, camera traps and video traps, KORA studied the spatial distribution of the lynx and their behaviour. Genetic samples were collected to determine the degree of relationship between the lynx as well as to assess their general health status and the inbreeding coefficient of the population.
Results and publications
Results of the project were published among others in the following publications:
- Vimercati E. 2014. Predation of Eurasian lynx on roe deer fawns and chamois kids in the Northwestern Swiss Alps. Master Thesis. Zurich University of Applied Sciences ZHAW, Wädenswil, Switzerland. 25 pp.
- Vogt, K., Zimmermann, F., Kölliker, M. & Breitenmoser, U. 2014. Scent-marking behaviour and social dynamics in a wild population of Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx. Behavioural Processes, 106, 98–106. Zudem wurde sie in Form eines KORA-Berichts (Nr. 61) veröffentlicht.
- Vogt, K., Hofer, E., Ryser, A., Kölliker, M. & Breitenmoser, U. 2016. Is there a trade-off between scent marking and hunting behaviour in a stalking predator, the Eurasian lynx, Lynx lynx? Animal Behaviour, 117, 59–68.
- Vogt K., Vimercati E., Ryser A., Hofer E., Signer S., Signer C. & Breitenmoser U. 2018. Suitability of GPS telemetry for studying the predation of Eurasian lynx on small- and medium-sized prey animals in the Northwestern Swiss Alps. European Journal of Wildlife Research 64 (73), 1225-1227.
Project duration: 2012-2015
Study area: North-western Alps
- Roe deer project in the Simmental of the University of Zurich
- Project SMEL of the University of Basel & KORA
- Stotzer-Kästli Stiftung
- Zürcher Tierschutz
- Karl Mayer Stiftung
- Stiftung Ormella
Contact KORA: Dr. Kristina Vogt