Balkan lynx on the brink
Once killed as a pest, the Balkan lynx, a subspecies of the European lynx, and the largest of the wild cats found in Europe, is now being hunted for its prized fur. Populations of this stunningly beautiful spotted golden-brown cat hover at below 80 in Albania and Macedonia with even smaller numbers distributed in Montenegro and Serbia.
The Balkan lynx grows up to one metre in length and 65 cm. in height and weighs up to 25 kg. Though illegal hunting remains the main threat, degraded forests and declining populations of its prey – roe deer, chamois and hare – are compounding the problem. Local support for the cat is also lacking due to the mistaken belief that it kills livestock, although researchers have found this to be extremely rare.
Lynx hunting is punishable under law with prison sentences of up to eight years. However, the fact that no one has been prosecuted so far, emboldens poachers. Monitoring schemes are currently underway in both Macedonia and Albania, including camera-trapping studies in western Macedonia’s Galicica National Park to help develop conservation strategies.
Experts suggest that steps such as increased protection of the cat’s habitat, improved law enforcement and education of locals must be implemented to bring back the Balkan lynx from the edge of extinction.