A kitten of one of Europe’s most endangered cats has been photographed in the wild for the first time in 10 years. Hidden in a den in a remote region of Macedonia, the cub raises the hope for the survival of the critically endangered Balkan lynx, of which only around 50 are thought to survive in the Balkan Peninsular.
The cats are a subspecies of the Eurasian lynx, and even though the species as a whole is considered to be doing quite well, the population living in the Balkans is perilously close to extinction. Only found around the border of Albania and Macedonia, their numbers have been declining so severely that in 2015 they were added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. While a conservation plan has been in place to try and secure the future of these cats, information regarding whether or not they're breeding has been hard to come by.
This makes the image of the kitten incredibly important. While a few years ago there was a report that a kitten was stoned to death by a shepherd in Albania, this is the first hard evidence that the lynx are breeding on the other side of the border, within the Mavrovo National Park. It sparks hope that the animals are part of a viable breeding population, they just need the pressures pushing them towards extinction to be eased.
These are thought to be down to a common mix of problems. Hunters have played a part in their decline, as has the destruction of their woodland habitat. One of the main objectives of the Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme, however, is to restore the prey that the kittens need to survive. It is thought that only around 25 percent of cubs will make it to adulthood, and so making sure that the adults have sufficient numbers of roe deer and chamois to hunt is critical.
“The success of the whole project is largely based on the good will and cooperation that the Macedonian Ecological Society (MES) has with local people and stakeholders, mostly hunters, foresters, and livestock breeders,” explained the MES’s Dime Melovski, to IFLScience. “Some hunters are deeply involved in monitoring activities and are quite interested in helping us get the scientific data.”
Yet even if the prey base is restored to give the small population of lynx a fighting chance of survival, there are still many problems to overcome. One of the biggest issues, says Melovski, is that of habitat connectivity. “Transboundary cooperation is a must, since small Balkan countries can’t host viable lynx populations.”
One kitten does not ensure the survival of the subspecies, but it certainly offers a glimmer of hope for their future.