The Eurasian lynx (lynx lynx) is the largest of the four lynx species. It is classified as ‘Least Concern’ globally by the IUCN Red List and nationally assessed as vulnerable species. The national population status of the species is unknown, yet it is believed to be in few numbers as hundred and declining.
This feline species has a wide distribution area ranging from Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe to Central Asia and Siberia, the Tibetan Plateau, and the Himalayas. Information about the species is deficient in most parts of Asia including the Nepal Himalayas. Potential distribution of the species in Nepal covers the whole Trans-Himalaya including the protected areas of the Annapurna Conservation Area, Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, Rara National Park, and Shey-Phoksundo National Park.
The cat has relatively long legs and feet which act as snowshoes, with a short tail. Characteristic features include black tufts at the tip of the ears and a noticeable flared facial ruff. This distinct tuft of black hair helps it to detect the direction of sound made by the prey from the wind which makes it quite an effective hunter. The body coat is grey, rusty, or yellow with varied patterns like spotted, striped, and solid. And males are quite larger than females. On average, an adult male weighs about 21 kg and an adult female weighs about 18 kg.
Sub-species of this lynx found in the Himalayas is recognized as Lynx lynx isabellinus. This subspecies, also called Himalayan lynx is rarely observed in the forested habitat that contrasts with European lynx. Also in Nepal, the cat is reported mostly from thick scrub woodland and barren rocky areas above the treeline. The cat is solitary in nature and its diet includes small mammals like the woolly hare, Himalayan marmot, pika, rodent, and even domestic prey.
Studies suggest that the species is quite rare in Nepal because of its infrequent records. Although in-depth study on the species is still lacking, very few are recorded even in large spatial regions till the date. According to Naresh Kushi and his team, there was no information on the species in between the period of 2001-2010. And some are opportunistic records from the expedition on the research of other wildlife in the Himalaya.
Major threats for the species in Asia are habitat fragmentation and loss, poaching, and retaliatory killing. The lynx is primarily threatened by poaching for its fur in China, India and Pakistan. Also, use of fur for clothes and decoration is quite prevalent in Tibetan communities. Although poaching has not been reported from Nepal yet, it is quite probable in the border of China. Furthermore, a new threat to Himalayan lynx, the first Sarcoptes mite infection in the lynx of Pakistan was detected in 2016.
In Nepal, habitat fragmentation is already an issue. In addition to that, livestock depredation by lynx has been reported in the country prevailing human-wildlife conflict. The concerning part is that the country has no legal provision of compensation for damage by Eurasian lynx. To minimize the conflict, impacts on both wildlife and people should be taken into account for which effective conservation strategies should be implemented. Depredation compensation and conservation awareness on this feline species, thus need to be considered in future.
Despite the rarity, Eurasian lynx is getting very little attention with no funding at all; most of the studies and conservation efforts are focused on snow leopards in the Himalayas. As suggested by Naresh Kushi and the team, every high altitude carnivore should be the focus of future studies rather than one specific species as each of them has a significant role in maintaining the Himalayan ecosystem. Most importantly, conserving this feline species in our country’s native range is also fundamental for expanding the understanding of the species status in Asia.
Insufficient data on the species status and threats faced by it, plus its rare occurrence in the country can lead to local extinction. Even for planning conservation strategies for this species in future, which seems very urgent, these things should be well understood. Population status, genetics, ecology, and conservation issues of the species are hence the crucial matters that need to be addressed in the future for its effective conservation.