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Biologist explains lynx population increase

Lynx sightings in the City of Timmins have been on the increase this winter for several reasons. Snowshoe hares, the main food for lynx, increase and decrease in number as part of a 10-year natural cycle. Their population is currently low, or at the bottom of the cycle.  We would normally expect lynx numbers to decrease following a decrease in the number of snowshoe hares. Red squirrels, an alternate source of food for lynx, have been abundant recently and may have helped lynx numbers remain higher than expected. Although they are adapted to living with cold weather and deep snow, conditions this year (fluffy snow with no supporting crust) make it difficult to travel the greater distances required to find food. We expect lynx numbers to decrease in the near future, and for numbers of both snowshoe hares and lynx to increase again gradually over the next few years.

Although there have been a few reported attacks on small domestic pets, humans are not considered to be at risk. If a lynx is spotted, they will typically remain still to avoid drawing attention to themselves.  Lynx, like any wildlife, will move to an area where a food source is readily available. Bird feeders along bush trails and near homes attract birds, squirrels, and feral cats, then also attract lynx. These potential sources of food may be more important to the lynx than any fear they have of humans.  They may not be afraid, but are not being aggressive. They are also curious animals and have few predators; their instinct isn’t to run away from humans. Lynx are not an endangered species (species at risk) within Ontario or anywhere in Canada.

There are reasons why MNR is not tranquilizing these animals and relocating them.  Tranquilizing is a very traumatic event for an animal.  We cannot tranquilize wildlife unless the situation is controlled, such as when a black bear is in a tree. The dart guns and darts that we use are designed for large animals and can cause injury or death to smaller animals like lynx. Trapping and then tranquilizing is not a realistic option. Cage or box-type live traps are not effective for catching lynx, and padded-jaw leg hold traps must be monitored frequently during the day and night so that toes or paws of captured animals are not damaged due to frostbite.  In built up areas of the City, traps may also inadvertently catch domestic pets. With relocation, there is always a risk that a new lynx may be killed by another lynx already living in the area.

Local police forces are responsible to respond to any occurrences where there may be issues related to public safety. Although we regret what has happened with the three lynx, the MNR and Timmins Police are working on a co-operative protocol for response to human-wildlife conflicts within the City.  We do have one in place for bears but it will need to be expanded to include such animals as lynx, wolves, coyotes and foxes. In addition, there is a recognized need to better educate the public on animal behaviours and how to live with wildlife.


Derrick Romain M.Sc.,Porcupine Area Biologist, MNR

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