Monday 9 February 2009

Canadian Lynx

Other names for the Canadian Lynx are Canada Lynx or American Lynx. The scientific name is Lynx canadensis. The population size is unstated on the IUCN Red List website (2011). They should know and if they do they don't tell you.


The above photo is a thumbnail. Stepping out of the technical stuff for a minute, for me, there are three striking characteristics of this cat:
  1. The enormous paws and thick stocky limbs
  2. The fantastic and heavily ticked coat (see another wildcat’s ticked coat), which is its downfall as people like to own fur that is as good as this.
  3. The distinctive ruff with two “points”at the bottom
The Canada Lynx is a medium sized wildcat that is closely associated with humans for the wrong reasons from the cat’s point of view; persecution for it fur. It has been widely extirpated (this euphemistic word means, “destroy completely, as if down to the roots” – src:

The Canada Lynx is similar but a bit smaller than the Eurasian Lynx with an average weight of about 24 lbs (11 kg). This is just above the heaviest of domestic cats (F2 Savannah and some Maine Coons).
In this post I focus on conservation and discuss the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classification in some detail below.

As I was saying, about those paws....Wow! This domesticated Canada Lynx shows of those over sized paws. They are like snow shoes for walking on snow.

IUCN Red List for Threatened Species Assessment

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rate the Canadian Lynx as threatened - the IUCN Red List rate the cat as Least Concern (LC) (see IUCN Red List in Relation to Cats) - whose right? I guess they are both correct at a regional level but I think that the Red List is generous. Is the US Fisheries designation compatible with IUCN? Lynx are sport hunted for fun and for their fur and by farmers. They are considered to be a predator of domestic animals.

Canadian lynx wildcat

Canadian Lynx - the above photo and the other still photos on this page (except the one above) are by digitalART2 (new window) - thanks for the best images of this great looking wildcat.

The most important aspect of all wildcats is their survival in the wild (well, at least for some of us). Are wildcats still wildcats when they are captive? All I see (and I accept that I could be wrong) is the gradual decline of wildcats such as the Canadian Lynx in the wild although IUCN Red List says that the population is "stable" despite failing to provide any estimate as to population size on their website. I wonder where the information comes from for the IUCN Red List to declare that the population is stable? The Canadian authorities no doubt and their information must in the end come from the people on the ground and at the sharp end, the hunters and trappers. And we know how vigorously Canadian hunters and trappers protect their historic "right" to hunt (e.g. the seal pup trade which is quite brutal in its nature).

Is it fair, then, to say that the people who manage the status of wildcats such as the IUCN are failing in their role? IUCN stands for International Union for Conservation of Nature. IUCN plays a major role in conservation of wild animals and plants. They say that they help to develop the science of conservation and manage conservation projects worldwide amongst other things.

Please watch the video above. It is a little dark, yes, but the content is good because of what the presenter says and to see this cat being handled etc. Although the Canada Lynx in this video is an exceptionally large one.

The IUCN Red list is intended to be a fully "comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species." Who provides the information and what is the criteria? Is it accurate? I am being critical, I know, but in their 2008 Red List release it "has confirmed an extinction crisis, with almost one in four [mammals] at risk of disappearing forever". Why is this suddenly news? It takes a long time to get to that state of affairs. I don't recall any previous releases of IUCN Red Lists giving warning of this dire situation. Does this call into question the accuracy of the Red List?
Canadian Lynx

The Canadian Lynx is considered Least Concern (LC) in the IUCN Red List. In order to be designated this status the population status of the Canadian Lynx must have been evaluated. That is, there needs to be sufficient information to make a direct, or indirect, assessment of the cat's risk of extinction. Humans are also in this category (Lease Concern) , incidentally. The world human population is 6.75 billion at Feb. 2009 (src: Wikipedia). Wikipedia (nor any other source I can find) does not provide an estimate of the Canadian Lynx population. The population, though, is bound to be at most in the thousands and under threat so the designation "LC" seems to cover a very wide range of circumstances. To put us on a par with the Canadian Lynx, in terms of surival, seems strange.

Wikipedia does say, though, that there was or are attempts to reintroduce this species into Colorado, which went, it seems badly wrong. This would indicate a population problem in the USA at least, not an abundance. So, what is the Canadian Lynx population and has it decreased over, say, the past 100 years of so? It is almost impossible to find out, indicating that a proper assessment has not been made.

We know that the Lynx's population fluctuates wildly in tune with its main prey the Snowshoe hare (9-11 year cycles - src: PNAS -- varying from 30 animals per 100 sq. kms, to about 3 per 100 sq. kms src: Figures available from the website Hinterland Who's Who and based upon trapping for fur figures indicate (on my estimation) that the population remained about static at approximately 25,000 or so between 1845 and 1915 and then decreased to around 10,000 around 1935 (although these are rather imprecise figures). The National Wildlife Federation says that the animal is so secretive that scientists don't really know the population of this wildcat. They do agree though that it requires a large range, which must clash with human population growth as the range is getting smaller year on year.

Canadian Lynx range

Canadian Lynx range - picture published under Wikimedia Commons - author Surachit - self made map. The mean home range is 2.6 Canada lynxes/100 km² (src:

The website Red Lodge Clearing House states that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed (at March 2008) that the Lynx's habitat be dramatically expanded indicating a looming problem inconsistent with the IUCN Red List evaluation of LC (the expansion to about 37,000 square miles has now been ordered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). They also say that there has been political interference (my words) in the assessment of habitat. Update: It seems that the assessment under the former Interior Department deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, Julie MacDonald was influenced by the timber business, unsurprising really. She had designated a mere 1,841 square miles of critical habitat, a fraction of the 37,000 now allocated.

They go on to say that the Canadian Lynx has suffered like nearly all (all?) wildcats from habitat loss, over-trapping and habitat fragmentation (trapping is a major cause of Canada lynx deaths in some parts of Canada -src: ).

Habitat fragmentation is a major threat to the Iberian Lynx which is critically endangered. When habit is fragmented small nonviable groups of animals congregate resulting in inbreeding and eventual extinction. The population of the Canadian Lynx in the USA, as at 2008, they say, is an estimated 1,000 (source: see this document). There are considerable efforts to stabilize the population; all pointing to a cat that is endangered and far from the status assigned by the IUCN Red List of Least Concern. OK, this is the USA but it might be argued that the population in Canada is so large as to counteract any losses in the USA. Is that the case though? And you know what -- it is impossible to find figures on numbers in Canada. Even the trapper websites keep their mouths shut as expected.

These are very rough estimates based on what I can find on the internet. These figures shouldn't be quoted as reliable please. Any visitors? Do you have figures? I'd love to hear from you. I know, as mentioned above, that the population of this cat varies a lot but there must be an average nonetheless. These estimates come from old trapping records and guesstimate projections.

In the USA, as stated, if I could summarize the overall situation it is that the Canadian Lynx is endangered (used in a common sense dictionary definition way) and needs protection (under the Endangered Species Act). We know that Canadians like to hunt and trap so I'd expect this wildcat to be in a pretty precarious state in Canada to. Is there political pressure being brought to bear to allow people to continue to trap and hunt this cat in Canada?

In the USA a legal action was commenced to force U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reevaluate earlier findings on the Canadian Lynx's status in the wild. The action was commenced by the Defenders of Wildlife and 14 other plaintiffs. The District Court found for the plaintiffs and made and order that set aside the earlier findings requested that the Service reconsider. Does the need to start legal proceedings indicate political pressure from the hunting and shooting lobby in the USA and is the same thing going on in Canada?

In Canada the Lynx is trapped in all provinces & territories except New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia (src: This website does say though that human activity does not seem to be threatening lynx populations. I wonder if that is true. One thing is for sure, no one knows. This means the IUCN Least Concern (LC) designation is not based upon an actual assessment. Perhaps it designated LC because it does not have the information? It is not uncommon for even well organized conservation projects to be unable to accurately assess population sizes of wildcats as they are very secretive (wisely some would say).

There aren't that many good videos of the Canadian Lynx on YouTube. This one gives a nice feel for the size and overall appearance.

One last point on the fur trade. Trappers use traps, of course. Can these traps differentiate the targeted animal from any other and do the trappers care? The fact is there is a lot of collateral damage done to wildlife in the name of trapping the Canadian Lynx for its skin. The Lynx can be legally trapped in all provinces of Canada except Nova Scotia. There would seem to be an acceptance that the leghold trap will eventually be banned - why not ban it now? It is a very cruel device. I know that I am the opposite in character to the Canadian trappers but I find what they do terribly cruel and wrong. I don't see a need for it in 2009. Trapping for the skins of any animal is old fashioned. That time is over. It is a legacy of a poorer past. Better than banning the leghold would be to ban trapping and hunting of this cat altogether. The Lynx is not found on Prince Edward Island. I presume that it was there once but has be trapped to extinction - wrong?... please tell me.

Well, this video is not the best quality but it is good quality in one way, it shows the Canada Lynx in the wild, nervous of humans and gives a nice feel for behavior in the wild (and size too).

Appearance - Behavior etc.

Canadian LynxThe appearance is well documented and what gives this cat a special appearance, the coat, is well stolen and it is the cause of the animal's demise as mentioned. I have difficulty writing about a cats appearance when it is shot because of its appearance. If the cat was simply admired for its appearance then I would be better motivated to discuss it and praise it.

The coat is naturally ticked. In short it is a tabby cat coat. A coat with which we are very familiar in the domestic cat (see cat coats tabby).

The Canadian Lynx can be mistaken for the American Bobcat, a similar but smaller wild cat. You can see both in the video above. The Bobcat lives at a lower height above sea level that the Lynx. The Lynx is designed for walking on snow. For me the three outstanding features are (a) what are called "lynx ears" meaning the hair at the tip of the ear (b) the large snow shoe like paws (for getting around in the snow) and (c) that amazing and very distinctive ruff, which is quite unlike the usual ruff. The ears of the Lynx are more pointed or triangular than the ears of the Bobcat and the hair tips are longer. 75% of the Lynx's diet is snowshoe hares. Hunting at night this cat will usual make one large jump to catch the hare.

I think I need to make a conclusion. This is it. We don't know how many Canadian lynx there are in the wild. I allege that we misrepresent the position through the IUCN Red List, which although well intentioned are dependent on information from sources that have self interest at heart and not accuracy of data. We are being stupid in not dealing with the issue properly and honestly. Our behavior in relation to the Canadian lynx is similar to that with global warming or over fishing. Business rules. Short term thinking rules. Apathy lets business rule the situation.

Update: Canada lynx prey in Alberta - a charts showing prey items as a percentage of overall prey. Also see Canada lynx food chain.

Canadian Lynx to Wild Cat Species
Photos of the Lynx published under creative commons license:


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