The rare Eurasian lynx is at risk of extinction in France, according to a study published Monday that called for immediate measures to boost the population of the wild cats.
There are only between 120 and 150 adult Eurasian lynx hidden in the mountains of northeastern France, cut off from healthier lynx populations in Switzerland and Germany, according to the researchers behind the genetic study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.
“Given the rapid loss of genetic diversity, we estimate that this population will go extinct in less than 30 years,” co-author Nathan Huvier of the Centre Athenas, a wildlife sanctuary in France, said. “This population urgently needs new genetic material to become sustainable.”
The Eurasian lynx has distinctive tufted ears and bushy fur and is larger than the other lynx species, with males weighing up to 35 kg and females weighing up to 25 kg. The animal is found in forests and mountain regions and is well adapted to life in cold climates.
In the 1970s, the Eurasian lynx was re-introduced in France, spreading through the Jura mountains along the French-Swiss border, where most of the population remains.
Huvier said hunting threatens the animals, but that cars were the main threat to lynx because roads break up their territory. Last year, conservationists recorded 22 crashes between lynx and vehicles. Only one lynx survived.
The researchers collected genetic samples and found that even though the French population is believed to be between 120 and 150 individuals, there are only around 38 lynx with sufficient genetic diversity to breed healthy and successfully.
Without a breeding program to introduce new species, the authors warned the population is likely to collapse. Female Eurasian lynxes give birth to litters of 1 to 6 kittens after being pregnant for about two months. The kittens are born blind and helpless, but they grow quickly and can hunt on their own by the time they are 6 to 8 months old.
The fact that the lynx is back in France is amazing, and that’s why it is so important to protect this population, Huvier told news agency AFP.
Last year, French authorities expressed concern about lynx declines and a national plan was launched to restore the species’ population.
However, attempts to increase the population of lynx in the area have met with resistance from hunters and farmers. The Eurasian lynx feeds on hares, rabbits, squirrels, and roe deer, but sometimes also larger animals such as reindeer or sheep.