Lynx numbers still far from their peak

The lynx population is recovering from a deep decline.
The lynx population is recovering from a deep decline. Source: Susanne Nilsson/CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

While the population of lynxes in Estonia has increased and they are making headlines, their numbers are still considerably below their historical peak, Uudo Timm, a senior specialist at the Environment Agency, said.

According to the Environment Agency, Estonia had 550-600 lynxes last autumn. The number of cubs was 86. This is the second year in a row colonies have increased. If the growth rate continues, 100 lynx litters could be born this year. The country is considering lynx hunting again; however, Uudo Timm said the lynx population is still slowly recovering from a deep decline.

"Looking at lynx numbers over a little longer time span, the cold and snowy winters of 2010 and 2011 dramatically reduced the amount of roe deer, the lynx's primary prey. The lynx population plummeted in the years that followed. Meanwhile, warmer winters returned, and the number of roe deer began to increase again, but the number of lynx did not. After a long wait the rise in lynx population is noticeable again," Timm told ERR.

Timm said that Estonia had 1,000-1,100 lynx before the 2,010 drop. So the lynx population is not at its apex. The zoologist estimates that there may be around 800 lynxes living in Estonia at the moment. "If you look at the action plan for the conservation of large carnivores, they may be allowed to be hunted again on a limited basis after reaching 1,000," he added.

Timm said that the lynx are doing well because there is enough of prey. "Lynx have done well in recent years compared to 10 or 8 years ago. The food basis is good, but reproductive success regulators require a certain critical mass of abundance needs to be exceeded for reproductive potential to be better realized. The population has recovered from the dip and is now growing," the researcher said.

The lynx's main prey is roe deer, so Timm said they regulate each other's abundance in Estonia. "If the number of lynx goes up, they will certainly slow down the increase in the number of roe deer, or even decrease it a little. As 2010 and 2011 show, if the roe deer population declines, the lynx will follow," he said.

Timm said that the fate of roe deer has varied from region to region in recent years. In some places, the number has begun to decline. "For example, last year in Viru County there was quite a heavy snowfall, which affected part of the roe deer population. The wolves and lynxes, who then enjoyed the easy prey, also played their part. In that area, the number of roe deer is currently on the decline," he said.

The second half of last winter was mostly snow-free in the western part of Estonia, benefiting roe deer. Tim said that they are thriving there. "Overall, roe deer populations are either stabilizing or declining in Estonia," he said.

On the basis of roe deer only, however, it is not possible to predict the number of lynxes, because the lynx's diet also includes, for example, the brown hare, whose numbers are on the rise, Timm said. "So I think that lynx numbers will continue on the same upward trend for a few more years, or will slowly stabilize," he said.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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