What big cats live in Europe

The lynx - the largest big cat in Europe

In Germany, the lynx has found a home again in the Bavarian Forest, the Palatinate Forest, the Harz Mountains, the Fichtel Mountains and the Spessart. He has also been spotted in Saxon Switzerland, the Black Forest and the Eifel.

From the hunter to the hunted

The Eurasian lynx was originally distributed across Europe. However, as humans began to occupy more and more space and advanced into once unpopulated areas, the lynx withdrew more and more into the great mountain ranges such as the Pyrenees, the French Massif Central, the Alps, the Bavarian Forest and the Bohemian Forest.

The big cat's habitat was getting smaller and smaller. For a long time, the lynx had a bad reputation among humans: it was considered murderous and insidious. In search of food he left the thicket and went after sheep and goats.

That is why he was hunted as a robber of farm animals and because of his beautiful fur and thus almost exterminated. In Germany, the last specimens lived in the Bavarian Forest. They disappeared by the middle of the 19th century.

Not all lynxes are created equal

A fully grown one Eurasian lynx measures from the head to the base of the tail between 80 and 120 centimeters. The hairbrushes on the ears are typical of the lynx.

Scientists used to think that these hairbrushes were responsible for making the lynx hear so well. This is now considered refuted, although we do not yet know what the brushes are good for.

What is clear, however, is that lynxes hear very well: they should be able to hear the rustling of a mouse from a distance of 50 meters.

Due to its limited distribution area, the Iberian lynx, also known as the Iberian lynx, one of the most endangered species of cats in the world. He is at home in the scrub forests of Spain and Portugal.

The Spanish government introduced a targeted breeding program to preserve the species in 2001. The Iberian lynx looks very similar to the Eurasian lynx, but is smaller, has more pronounced whiskers, and its fur is more clearly spotted.

The Canadian lynx lives in the cold regions of North America and protects itself from the sub-zero temperatures in its homeland with a thick coat. This fur makes him look bigger than he actually is. Overall, it is considerably smaller and lighter than the Eurasian lynx.

He hunts deer, rabbits or foxes. Sometimes pets are also its prey, which is why it is still hunted by the farmers.

The big cat is a good swimmer and climber. It can track its prey for several kilometers.

The Bobcat is smaller and lighter than the other lynx species. It owes its name to its reddish-brown fur. It is very adaptable and can therefore be found in many habitats: from the deciduous and coniferous forests of Canada to the semi-deserts of California and the rocky regions of the Rocky Mountains to the Everglades in Florida.

Bobcat can live up to 17 years in the wild and even older in captivity.

Return of the Lynx

In Europe there are still natural occurrences of lynx in Scandinavia, in eastern Poland along the Carpathian Mountains and in the countries of the former Soviet Union. All other lynx populations in Europe are reintroductions.

Scientists are trying to make the lynx at home again in Western and Central Europe: lynxes have been migrating to Germany from the Bohemian Forest in the Czech Republic since the early 1980s and increasingly since the early 1990s.

The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation put the lynx population in Germany at 85 adult animals in 2019.

Successful Harz project

Since summer 2000 there has been a lynx project with bred animals in the Harz Mountains. Conservationists and biologists have specifically released the big cats there. With success: the population is now growing independently, there are offspring every year.

The Harz National Park is the core area, but the lynxes are also looking for a new home outside of it.

The lynxes are spreading. This means that the animals begin to migrate: sometimes large stretches past densely populated areas, across fields and meadows.

Like the lynx M2. He was the first whose route the employees of the Harz lynx project were able to follow precisely in 2009 thanks to a GPS transmitter.

The governments of Hesse, Baden-W├╝rttemberg and Bavaria are also involved in lynx projects.

In order to find out more about the living environment the animals need and what habits they have, the lynx researchers collect as much information as possible, for example on the basis of torn prey, footprints, droppings and fur.

The more you learn about the lynx, the better you can monitor the re-introduction of the big cat.

Death comes on quiet tires

For lynx, they are the greatest obstacle and deadly danger: highways. The concreted expressways kill, cut through the landscape, separate habitats and make the migration behavior typical of lynxes difficult. The exchange of genes is also made more difficult - there is a risk of inbreeding.

Young animals have to leave the territories of the old and conquer new territories. If they stay, there is a high probability that they will be killed in turf wars.

At the Harz lynx, the project managers have been observing for years that the lynx continue to roam. Green bridges and underpasses help on motorways and expressways.

The NABU and other environmental associations are calling for a biotope network system to be established in Germany. The animals could then move and spread from one safe habitat to the next via so-called stepping stone biotopes.

Lack of acceptance

Farmers and hunters are partly concerned about the return of the lynx: the farmers worry about their livestock, the hunters fear the extinction of the roe deer.

So far, however, little is known about the influence of the lynx on the population of its prey. In the eyes of the conservationists, the lynx is a health policeman who only hunts sick and weak prey and indicates an intact wilderness.

Just like about 100 years ago, the lynx still has the problem of being accepted by humans. However, the hunt for him is either forbidden or strictly regulated in most countries, as well as in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.