Home News Science&Tech Swiss lynxes exported to Italy in effort to boost population

Swiss lynxes exported to Italy in effort to boost population

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In early March, two lynxes were moved from the Swiss Jura to Italy to strengthen the population there. Both lynxes will be monitored by radio collars after their release.

On March 2, 2023, the canton of Jura reported the capture of two lynxes in the District of Delémont. The two females had been caught in their deer prey and the animals were found to be healthy by veterinarians. Genetic research showed that they are not related to each other, so that is good for reproduction. Before crossing the border, they were taken to quarantine stations, and from there a few days later to Italy, to the area of their release.

Tarvisio, in the province of Udine, is located in the tripoint of Italy, Austria and Slovenia. The location is ideal for a release, as it is about 30 kilometers west of a lynx population reintroduced to the Slovenian Alps. It is expected that the Swiss Lynx will join this population, making it genetically stronger and contributing to the long-term viability of the lynx in this region.

The lynx population in this area had been in sharp decline for some time, isolated and genetically impoverished. The group was threatened with extinction, and as of 2017, plans were being made to increase the population by relocating lynxes. A sub-goal of this project is to establish a ‘springboard population’ in the Eastern Alps. The two Swiss lynxes contribute to this. This springboard population should in time better connect the lynx population in the Dinaric mountains with that in the western Alps.

Population of lynxes in Switzerland

The removal of the two lynxes from the Swiss Jura is not problematic for this population. The entire Jurassic arc is populated and the population is stable. The vacated territories will most likely soon be reoccupied by young females.

In addition to the two Swiss lynxes, two lynxes from the Romanian Carpathians are also expected in Italy this season. The relocation of the Swiss lynxes to Italy is a collaboration between, among others, KORA Foundation (foundation for Ecology and wildlife), the Lynx project and the Italian partners.

In 1971, the species was reintroduced (caught in the Slovak Carpathians) to the Alps of France and Switzerland, the Jura, the Vosges and the Harz. It was also the beginning of the return of the lynx throughout Central and Western Europe.

The two lynxes now released in Italy disappeared quietly and inconspicuously in the forests at the foot of the Alps in central Switzerland, but the event caused a stir in the Swiss press and the rumor even spread abroad. As with the spectacular reintroduction of the IBEX half a century earlier, it was claimed, Switzerland set the tone for new standards in species conservation and nature conservation.

Reintroduction programs have been established in several countries in Central Europe to stabilize the situation of the Eurasian lynx or to allow the species to spread further. The lynx was formerly found in large parts of Europe, Central France and from the Pyrenees to the Balkans. However, the animal has been exterminated in Europe in many regions because it would cause damage to wildlife and livestock.

Where it is still found, it is a protected animal. In some places, its numbers are even increasing again, as they are now in parts of Europe. In Eastern Europe, they have never been exterminated.

Dispersal in a new area, by reintroduction or by independent range expansion, proceeds approximately as follows:

Pioneer stage: young animals occupy a new territory. At first, this causes a lot of losses due to traffic victims and poaching. Also due to the isolated location, reproduction is sometimes difficult. New animals keep entering the area to find a territory. This is the case for the first five years after introduction into a new area.

Growth phase: the territories begin to connect, with the males managing to find the females. Because prey animals are not yet used to the lynxes, they can easily get enough food. Numbers of lynxes are increasing in a given area. This period is after five to fifteen years in a new area.

Adult phase: at some point, the prey animals are used to the lynxes and are not so easily devoured. Lynxes sometimes have to resort to less simple prey animals such as young red deer, rabbits, sheep and other domestic animals for their food. The animals therefore need larger territories due to the decreased availability of food. From these types of populations, new areas can be populated again. This stage is fifteen to thirty years after introduction into a new area.

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