Eurasian lynx
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Lynx
L. lynx[1]
Binomial name
Lynx lynx[1]
Distribution of Eurasian lynx, 2015[2]
  • Felis lynx Linnaeus, 1758

The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is a medium-sized wild cat widely distributed from Northern, Central and Eastern Europe to Central Asia and Siberia, the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas. It inhabits temperate and boreal forests up to an elevation of 5,500 m (18,000 ft). Despite its wide distribution, it is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching and depletion of prey.[2]


A northern lynx (Lynx lynx lynx), mounted
A northern lynx (Lynx lynx lynx), mounted

Felis lynx was the scientific name used in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus in his work Systema Naturae.[3] In the 19th and 20th centuries, the following Eurasian lynx subspecies were proposed:[4][5]

The following subspecies were also described, but are not considered valid taxa:[5]

The Sardinian lynx (L. l. sardiniae) Mola, 1908 was a misidentified Sardinian wild cat.[5]


Skull, as illustrated by N. N. Kondakov
Skull, as illustrated by N. N. Kondakov

The Eurasian lynx has a relatively short, reddish or brown coat, which tends to be more brightly coloured in animals living at the southern end of its range. In winter, however, this is replaced by a much thicker coat of silky fur that varies from silver-grey to greyish brown. The underparts of the animal, including the neck and chin, are white at all times of the year. The fur is almost always marked with black spots, although the number and pattern of these are highly variable. Some animals do also possess dark brown stripes on the forehead and back. Although spots tend to be more numerous in animals from southern populations, Eurasian lynx with heavily spotted fur may exist close to others with plain fur. It has powerful, relatively long legs, with large webbed and furred paws that act like snowshoes. It does also possess a short "bobbed" tail with an all-black tip, black tufts of hair on its ears, and a long grey-and-white ruff.

It is the largest of the four lynx species, ranging in body length from 76–106 cm (30–42 in) and standing 55–75 cm (22–30 in) at the shoulder. The tail measures 11–24.5 cm (4.3–9.6 in) in length, constituting a total length of up to 130 cm (51 in).[6][7] On average, males weigh 21.6 kg (48 lb) and females 18.1 kg (40 lb), with an overall range of 12–32 kg (26–71 lb); though weights in excess of 30 kg (66 lb) are attained very rarely.[6][8] There is, however, a reference to an Altai Mountains lynx weighing 35 kg (77 lb).[6][9] Those inhabiting Fennoscandia and westwards are considerably smaller, with a range of just 7–26 kg (15–57 lb); though the race from the Carpathian Mountains may rival their Altai counterparts in size.[10]

Distribution and habitat

Profile side of a Eurasian lynx
Profile side of a Eurasian lynx

The Eurasian lynx inhabits rugged country providing plenty of hideouts and stalking opportunities. Depending on the locality, this may include rocky-steppe, mixed forest-steppe, boreal forest, and montane forest ecosystems. In the more mountainous parts of its range, Eurasian lynx descends to the lowlands in winter, following prey species and avoiding deep snow. Despite its adaptations for moving in snow, it finds loose, deep snow difficult to deal with and cannot survive in areas with snow depths exceeding 100 cm (39 in).[7] It tends to be less common where the grey wolf (Canis lupus) is abundant, and wolves have been reported to attack and even eat lynx.[7]


The Eurasian lynx was once widespread throughout most of continental Europe. By the early 19th century, it was persecuted to local extinction in western and southern European lowlands, but survived only in mountainous areas and Scandinavian forests. By the 1950s, it had become extinct in most of Western and Central Europe, where only scattered and isolated populations exist today.[10]


A Eurasian lynx in the coat of arms of the Tavastia Proper region
A Eurasian lynx in the coat of arms of the Tavastia Proper region

The Eurasian lynx was close to extinction in Scandinavia in the 1930s. Since the 1950s, the population slowly recovered and forms three subpopulations in northern, central and southern Scandinavia.[11] In Norway, the Eurasian lynx was subjected to an official bounty between 1846 and 1980 and could be hunted without license. In 1994, a compensation scheme for livestock killed by lynx was introduced. By 1996, the lynx population was estimated to comprise 410 Individuals, decreased to less than 260 individuals in 2004 and increased since 2005 to about 452 mature individuals by 2008.[12]

In Sweden, the lynx population was estimated at about 1,400 individuals in 2006 and 1,250 in 2011. Hunting is controlled by government agencies.[13] In Finland, about 2,200–2,300 individuals were present according to a 2009 estimate.[14] The lynx population in Finland has been increasing every year since 1991, and is estimated to be nowadays larger than ever before. Limited hunting is permitted. In 2009 the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry gave a permit for hunting of 340 lynx individuals.[15]

Western Europe

Lynx in the Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany
Lynx in the Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany

The Eurasian lynx was exterminated in the French Alps in the early 20th century. Following reintroduction of lynx in Swiss Jura Mountains in the 1970s, lynx were recorded again in the French Alps and Jura from the late 1970s onwards.[16] It recolonised the Italian Alps since the 1980s, also from reintroduced populations in Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.[17] By 2010, the Alpine lynx population comprised about 120–150 individuals ranging over 27,800 km2 (10,700 sq mi) in six sub-areas.[18] In the Netherlands, lynx have been sighted sporadically since 1985 in the country's southern part.[19]

The Eurasian lynx was exterminated in Germany in 1850. It was reintroduced to the Bavarian Forest and the Harz in the 1990s; other areas were populated by lynx immigrating from neighboring France and the Czech Republic. In 2002, the first birth of wild lynx on German territory was announced, following a litter from a pair of lynx in the Harz National Park. Small populations exist also in Saxon Switzerland, Palatinate Forest, and Fichtelgebirge. Eurasian lynx also migrated to Austria, where they had also been exterminated. An episode of the PBS television series Nature featured the return of the lynx to Austria's Kalkalpen National Park after a 150-year absence.[20] A higher proportion is killed by human causes than by infectious diseases.[21] In the United Kingdom, the Eurasian lynx has been extirpated since the Middle Ages. It was proposed to reintroduce the species to the Scottish Highlands,[22][23] and there is active proposal to reintroduce the lynx into the Kielder Forest in Northumberland.[24]

Central and Eastern Europe


Anatolia and Caucasus

In the Anatolian part of Turkey, the Eurasian lynx is present in the Lesser Caucasus, Kaçkar Mountains and Artvin Province.[43][44] In Ciglikara Nature Reserve located in the Taurus Mountains, 15 individuals were identified.[45] More than 50 individuals were identified and monitored at a forest-steppe mixed ecosystem in northwestern Anatolia by camera traps, genetic material and radiotelemetry between 2009 and 2019.[46][47] In Kars Province, a breeding population occurs in Sarıkamış-Allahuekber Mountains National Park.[48] The Eurasian lynx and grey wolf can occur sympatrically, as they occupy different trophic niches.[49][50]

Central Asia

In Central Asia, it is native to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and the Chinese provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Shaanxi, and to the northern slopes of Iran's Alborz Mountains and Mongolia.[2]

In northern Pakistan, the Eurasian lynx was recorded at elevations of 1,067–5,000 m (3,501–16,404 ft) in Chitral District.[51][52] In India: Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and most other Himalayan states.

In Nepal, a Eurasian lynx was sighted in the western Dhaulagiri massif in 1975.[53] It is also present above elevations of 3,800 m (12,500 ft) in Humla, Mustang and Dolpa Districts.[54]

East Asia

Fossils of the Eurasian or a closely related Lynx species from the Late Pleistocene era and onward were excavated at various locations in the Japanese archipelago. Since no archaeological evidence after the Yayoi period was found, it was probably eradicated during the Jōmon period.[55]

Behaviour and ecology

Eurasian lynx
Eurasian lynx

Although they may hunt during the day when food is scarce, the Eurasian lynx is mainly nocturnal or crepuscular, and spends the day sleeping in dense thickets or other places of concealment. It lives solitarily as an adult. The hunting area of Eurasian lynx can be anything from 20 to 450 km2 (7.7 to 173.7 sq mi), depending on the local availability of prey. Males tend to hunt over much larger areas than females, which tend to occupy exclusive, rather than overlapping, hunting ranges. The Eurasian lynx can travel up to 20 km (12 mi) during one night, although about half this distance is more typical. They patrol regularly throughout all parts of their hunting range, using scent marks to indicate their presence to other individuals. As with other cats, its scent marks may consist of faeces, urine, or scrape marks,[56] with the former often being left in prominent locations along the boundary of the hunting territory. Eurasian lynx makes a range of vocalizations, but is generally silent outside of the breeding season. They have been observed to mew, hiss, growl, and purr, and, like domestic cats, will "chatter" at prey that is just out of reach. Mating calls are much louder, consisting of deep growls in the male, and loud "meow-like" sounds in the female. Eurasian lynx are secretive, and because the sounds they make are very quiet and seldom heard, their presence in an area may go unnoticed for years. Remnants of prey or tracks on snow are usually observed long before the animal is seen.[7]

Diet and hunting

Diet in Europe

Eurasian lynx in Europe prey largely on small to fairly large sized mammals and birds. Among the recorded prey items for the species are hares, rabbits, marmots, squirrels, dormice, other rodents, mustelids (such as martens), grouse, red foxes, wild boar, chamois, young moose, roe deer, red deer, reindeer and other ungulates. In keeping with its larger size, the Eurasian lynx is the only lynx species to preferentially take ungulates (the Iberian lynx and Canada lynx being specialists on lagomorph prey, while the bobcat is an opportunistic generalist). Although taking on larger prey presents a risk to the animal, the bounty provided by killing them can outweigh the risks. The Eurasian lynx thus prefers fairly large ungulate prey, especially during winter, when small prey is less abundant. Where common, roe deer appear to be the preferred prey species for the lynx.[57][58] Even where roe deer are quite uncommon, the deer are still quantitatively the favored prey species, though in summer smaller prey and occasional domestic sheep are eaten more regularly.[59] In parts of Finland, introduced white-tailed deer are eaten regularly. In some areas in Poland and Austria, red deer is the preferred prey, and in Switzerland, chamois is locally favored.[58] Eurasian lynx also feeds on carrion when available. Adult lynx require 1.1 to 2 kilograms (2.4 to 4.4 lb) of meat per day, and may take several days to fully consume some of their larger prey.[7]

Diet in Asia

In the Mediterranean mixed forest-steppe and subalpine ecosystems of Anatolia the main and most preferred prey of the Eurasian lynx is European hare, forming 79% to 99% of prey biomass eaten. Although the lynx is in sympatry with wild ungulates, such as wild goat, chamois, red deer and wild boar in these ecosystems, ungulate biomass in lynx diet does not exceed 10%.[49] In ten other study sites in the Black Sea region of northern Anatolia where roe deer can occur in high densities, lynx occurrence is positively correlated with European hare occurrence rather than roe deer.[60] Lynx in Anatolia also has physiological requirements and morphological adjustments similar to other lagomorph specialists, with a daily prey intake of about 900 g (32 oz).[49] It is therefore classified as lagomorph specialist. Diet studies in central[61][62] and northern Asia also indicate a diet mainly composed of lagomorphs and ungulate prey contributes in low amounts to lynx diet.[63] Eurasian lynx scat found in Dolpa District in the Nepal Himalayas contained remains of woolly hare (Lepus oiostolus), pika (Ochotona sp.), mountain voles (Alticola sp.), Himalayan marmot (Marmota himalayana) and domestic goat (Capra hircus).[64]


The main method of hunting is stalking, sneaking and jumping on prey, although they are also ambush predators when conditions are suitable. In winter certain snow conditions make this harder and the animal may be forced to switch to larger prey in Europe. Eurasian lynx hunt using both vision and hearing, and often climb onto high rocks or fallen trees to scan the surrounding area. A very powerful predator, these lynxes have successfully killed adult deer weighing to at least 150 kg (330 lb).[65]

Predators and interspecies predatory relationships

The primary predators of the lynx are the gray wolf and the wolverine. In Russian forests, gray wolves kill and eat lynx that fail to escape into trees, as evidenced by examination of wolf and lynx trackways in the Central Forest Preserve, and of lynx hair and bones found in wolf stomach contents in the Belovezh Forest. The lynx saves itself from its enemies by quickly climbing a tree or a cliff; it usually lives near a 'stronghold' place and eats its food in a high tree or cliff. Lynx populations decrease when wolves appear in a region such as observed in the Pritelsk region of the Altai Mountains, and lynx are likely to take smaller prey where wolves are active.[9] In eastern Slovakia, after an increase of wolves after World War II, lynx were observed to move out.[7]

However, there is also a reported instance of a male lynx having expelled an adult and apparently healthy male wolf in Belarus in a fight. After the incident the wolf vanished from the record, suggesting that it might have succumbed to the wounds sustained during the fight. Moreover, recent population dynamics and a high mortality rate among wolf cubs in the Naliboki forest might be connected to an increasing lynx population. All in all this suggests that at least locally lynx may dominate wolves, since no signs for predation of wolves on lynx was found.[66] In the Pechora-llyich Preserve in Russia wolverine predation and consumption of a lynx has been documented, and in the Altai Mountains, the lynx avoids wolverines.[9]

The gray wolf, wolverine, as well as the red fox and the eagle owl, are also competitors of the Eurasian lynx for food in the taiga regions of Russia. In years of low hare populations, the competition becomes especially strong, and the lynx is at a disadvantage because its competitors are able to secure other prey more efficiently. This competition may be especially severe in the northern parts of the lynx's range where lynx populations are vastly outnumbered by red fox and even by wolverines. The presence of other large carnivores is one factor limiting their population.[9]

In two ecosystems of Anatolia, cannibalism was common and lynx were found to form 5% to 8% of prey biomass in diet. Claws and bones analysed showed that sub-adult lynx were the victims of cannibalism during the mating and spring seasons.[49] Lynx were not found in the sympatrically occurring wolves' diet,[50] however, lynxes themselves were the predator of red foxes, martens, domestic cats and dogs, and golden jackal remains have been found in lynx fecal samples.[49] Sometimes, Siberian tigers have also preyed on lynxes, as evidenced by examination of tiger stomach contents.[9][67] In Sweden, out of 33 deaths of lynx of a population being observed, one was probably killed by a wolverine.[68][69] Lynx compete for food with the predators described above, and also with the red fox, eagle owls, golden eagles, wild boar (which scavenge from lynx kills), and in the southern part of its range, the snow leopard and leopard as well.[9] Brown bears, although not (so far as is known) a predator of Eurasian lynx, are in some areas a semi-habitual usurpers of ungulate kills by lynxes, not infrequently before the cat has had a chance to consume its kill itself.[70][58]


Eurasian lynx kitten
Eurasian lynx kitten

The mating season of the Eurasian lynx lasts from January to April. The female typically comes into oestrus only once during this period, lasting from four to seven days. If the first litter is lost, a second period of oestrus is common. It does not appear to be able to control its reproductive behaviour based on prey availability. Gestation lasts from 67 to 74 days. Pregnant females construct dens in secluded locations, often protected by overhanging branches or tree roots. The den is lined with feathers, deer hair, and dry grass to provide bedding for the young. At birth, Eurasian lynx kittens weigh 240 to 430 g (8.5 to 15.2 oz) and open after ten to twelve days. They initially have plain, greyish-brown fur, attaining the full adult colouration around eleven weeks of age. They begin to take solid food at six to seven weeks, when they begin to leave the den, but are not fully weaned for five or six months. The den is abandoned two to three months after the kittens are born, but the young typically remain with their mother until they are around ten months of age. Eurasian lynx reach sexual maturity at two or three years, and have lived for twenty one years in captivity.[7]

Females usually have two kittens; litters with more than three kittens are rare.[71][72][73]


Eurasian lynx at the Zoo Aquarium de Madrid
Eurasian lynx at the Zoo Aquarium de Madrid
Postage stamp from the Soviet Union, 1988
Postage stamp from the Soviet Union, 1988

The Eurasian lynx is included on CITES Appendix II and listed as a protected species in the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, Appendix III. Hunting lynx is illegal in many range countries, with the exception of Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Armenia and Iraq.[2] Since 2005, the Norwegian government sets national population goals, while a committee of representatives from county assemblies decide on hunting quotas.[12]

See also


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Further reading