Vets take action to save lynx

2012-01-29 14:35

Przemsyl - Growling furiously, Benek the lynx cub looks up with baleful eyes as a veterinarian squats by his cage and takes aim with a tranquiliser gun.

"It'll take a half hour to knock him out," says Jakub Kotowicz, vice-president of the Rehabilitation Centre for Protected Animals in Przemysl, southeastern Poland.

The feline snarls as the dart strikes its haunch, but minutes later is toying kitten-like with another pink, fluffy-tailed missile which went off target.

"If he was a bear, we'd need a whole night to get him under," jokes the centre's head Radoslaw Fedaczynski.

Eradicated from much of Europe 150 years ago, lynx still roam the continent's forested north and east.

Europe's population of Eurasian lynx is estimated at 7 500 to 8 000 - excluding those in Russia - with the bulk found in Romania, Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

Critically endangered

An estimated 200 of the solitary wildcats live in Poland, mostly clustered near the northeastern borders with Belarus, Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad territory and in the southern Carpathian Mountains, Benek's home turf.

The Eurasian lynx is in far better shape than its critically-endangered Spanish and Portuguese cousin the Iberian lynx, about 100 of which remain in the wild.

But life isn't easy and Benek - Polish for "Benny" - is lucky.

After becoming separated from his mother, and too young to hunt game properly, he emerged from the forest.

Locals called the care centre after finding him just before Christmas in Bircza, a village 27km from Przemysl.

Boosting his metabolism

"He was trying to catch chickens from the region's farms but got chased up a tree by some dogs. When we found him, he was starving, exhausted and needed our help," said Andrzej Fedaczynski, 52, who with his son Radoslaw runs the regular veterinary practice doubling as a voluntary care centre for wild animals.

Benek has been getting the best care possible: shots, glucose and medication to boost his metabolism.

He's the fifth lynx to have passed through in three years.

"We don't want to be a lynx sanctuary. Our goal is to get them back to the wild," said Radoslaw. "They have an excellent instinct for self-preservation."

The tranquilised Benek is carried limp-limbed from the isolated cage where he is being kept to stop him getting used to humans, past a domestic cat about to be seen by a vet. It freezes in its owners lap.

External appearance

"He weighed much less than he should, so we can't use his weight to determine his age. But size and external appearance tell us he's between six and 12 months old," said Kotowicz.

"It's hard to say when we'll be able to let him go. For now he's too weak. We only have 200 lynx in Poland, so each one is very valuable for the local ecosystem. We have to be 100 percent sure he'll cope in the wild," he added.

Benek is regaining his appetite for a normal lynx diet of deer and smaller game.

But if he reaches his third birthday - and sexual maturity - he will be an exception.