February 23, 2009

Balkan Lynx Endangered By Poachers, Locals

For about a century, the Balkan lynx, an iconic wild cat, has wavered on the brink of extinction.

"The lynx has no natural enemy except man," said Georgi Ivanov, an ecologist running a research project that observes lynxes in western Macedonia's Galicica National Park.

Poaching is the main threat to the Balkan subspecies of the European lynx, the biggest cat on the continent.

Lynx are slain by villagers primarily for their fur. However, deteriorating forests and a lack of quarry also contribute to their decline, experts note.

"The main cause of the extinction threat is illegal hunting, as well as environmental destruction and, above all, uncontrolled forest cutting," biologist Dime Melovski of the Macedonian Ecological Society said.

Zoran Celakovski stated that members of the Ohrid Hunting Society, which he leads, are trying to defend the Balkan lynx as well.

"We have information that there are some lynx here so we help the ecologists in their work, patrols and file-keeping," he said.

This large project hopes to set up protected regions for the animal and wants to create a conservation policy. The project will conclude in 2009, Melovski noted.

The lynx is seen by many as the unofficial national symbol in Macedonia, where it is on both a postal stamp and a coin. The cat has a short tail, long legs, a thick neck, and the prominent clumps of hair on both ears. They normally grow to three feet in length and two feet in height and can weigh 55 pounds.

The lynx feeds mainly on roe deer, the mountain chamois and rabbits, but never hunts humans. Despite the fact that hunting lynx is illegal, poachers prolong hunting the cat with arrogance, as no one has been prosecuted for the crime.

Macedonian ecologist Aleksandar Stojanov wants areas where the cat wanders to be labeled as national parks, to "reduce threats and increase the number of protected mountainous areas".

Locals need to be educated as well, since lore says that lynx are "pests that kill livestock and that is why they do not like it. But our data has shown that in only four cases has the animal actually caused any damage, and it was minimal," said Stojanov.

Manuela von Arx of KORA, feels that revising laws and increasing efforts is the key to the Balkan lynx' continued existence.

"Legal protection is meaningless if violations are not persecuted," she said in a statement. "In the long run co-existence between large carnivores and people can only be achieved and secured if the local people and land users are willing to tolerate animals such as the Balkan lynx in their vicinity."

Image Courtesy AFP


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