Thursday, February 22, 2007
Lynx Found in Northeast Kingdom
The big cat isn't a catamount -- a species that is believed to have vanished from the state's landscape in 1881 -- but rather a Canada lynx, a close relative of the bobcat that was last recorded in Vermont in 1968.
Biologists from Vermont and New Hampshire haven't seen the lynx but have concluded the cat is here after seeing a track in the snow Feb. 7.
The lynx track was observed by New Hampshire biologist Will Staats, who was hunting bobcats in the 4,970-acre Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area. He called Paul Hamelin, a wildlife biologist in the St. Johnsbury office of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, and both men confirmed the identity of the lynx tracks.
The two were able to observe where the lynx had traveled near a set of bobcat tracks, making it possible to take photos of the two sets of tracks. The lynx tracks are noticeably larger and spaced farther apart and have other unique identifying features.
"It just jumped right out at me," said Staats, who has tracked two separate lynx in New Hampshire, both close to the Connecticut River. "If you've got good snow conditions and you've been tracking animals as long as I have, it's pretty much unmistakable."
Kim Royar, Vermont's furbearer biologist, said historic accounts of Canada lynx in Vermont suggest that they were never as numerous as bobcats, and most likely were transitory animals that wandered in from northern Maine, New Hampshire or Canada. Lynx numbers rapidly declined in Vermont by the mid-1800s, when about 75 percent of the state's forest had been cleared for farming.
It's likely, Royar said, that the latest lynx is just visiting Vermont, likely looking for snowshoe hares, the cat's preferred prey.
Staats said he wasn't surprised to see a lynx track in Victory Basin.
"The habitat is good for them there," Staats said. "We've got plenty of snowshoe hare; there's a good amount of lynx in western Maine; and they have the ability to travel long, long distances."
Vermont Fish and Wildlife, Royar said, has had sightings of lynx in the past from around the Northeast Kingdom, but the department had not been able to confirm a track or sample scat left by the animal in question.
Looking very similar to bobcats, Canada lynx have ear tufts and ruffs on their cheeks larger than those of bobcats. Lynx have longer legs and larger, more-heavily furred feet than bobcats, which enable them to travel easily on snow.
Hamelin and Staats did find a stray hair near the track, Royar said, which is being tested to determine the species of animal it came from.
Protected by state and federal laws, the lynx also is listed as a furbearer species in Vermont. It is federally listed as a threatened species and listed by Vermont as endangered. Federal law provides a six-month jail sentence and $25,000 fine for killing one.
Staats said he's ventured back into the area since Feb. 7, but has been unable to find evidence of the cat.
"It could be in Canaan, western Maine or northern New Hampshire by now," Staats said.