Lynx Count in France Down to 150, Extinct in 30 Years
If nothing is done to address the lynx species’ declining population in France, which is now down to 150, researchers warn that it could become extinct in 30 years.
Adult Lynx Population in France
Big cat populations in Europe are doomed to extinction, according to conservationists, unless immediate steps are taken to protect the animals.
According to researchers, France is home to 120-150 adult lynxes. The cats’ genetic diversity is so low, according to tests on the animals, that they will go extinct locally in the next 30 years barring urgent action.
Historically, lynxes were found throughout Eurasia, but due to habitat loss, poaching, inbreeding, and traffic accidents, the elusive animals are now severely threatened in many nations.
Lynxes were wiped out from France during the 18th century. Following a project for their reintroduction in Switzerland in the 1970s, some Eurasian lynxes crossed the border into France and made a new home in the Jura mountains. However, the population did not grow large enough to become stable.
Extinct in 30 Years
Between 2008 and 2020, researchers at the Centre Athenas in eastern France collected 88 DNA samples from lynxes that were sick, dead, or orphaned, and were able to analyze 78 of them to create a genetic profile of the population. The team did not collect samples from any healthy wild lynxes to minimize stress on the animals.
Alarmingly little genetic diversity was found in the species, according to the tests. Even though scientists estimate there to be more than 120 adult lynxes in France, the population only has a diversity of 38 different species.
Nathen Huvier, one of the authors of the study, said that since this population was reintroduced in Switzerland, a significant amount of its genetic diversity has been lost.
He pointed out that in less than 30 years, this population will become extinct once more if new genetic material is not introduced.
Lack of Genetic Diversity
The researchers explain in their article published in Frontiers in Conservation Science how the lynxes’ DNA shows a shocking degree of inbreeding, where two mating cats are very likely to be closely related.
According to Huvier, a lack of genetic diversity can make people less healthy, cause illnesses, and make it harder for people to adapt to changes in their environment. A population with those traits was unable to evolve and was therefore at risk of extinction.
According to Huvier, the lynx is a keystone species in the area’s ecosystem because it is an apex predator.
According to the WWF, hunting and habitat loss are the two main dangers facing the Eurasian lynx. Illegal hunting still poses a serious threat, even though the population has benefited from the ban on the legal international fur trade.
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Adding more lynxes from healthier populations, such as those in Switzerland or Germany, was one way to increase the genetic diversity of the population. However, Huvier noted that such introduction initiatives were challenging politically.
Another strategy might be to swap orphaned lynx cubs housed at wildlife rescue facilities across the country for poached lynxes. To lessen the number of lynxes killed by traffic, researchers wish for strict implementation of anti-poaching laws as well as road signs alerting drivers to the presence of lynxes.
According to Huvier, his group wants to use their work to promote lynx conservation. The best short-term solutions for the lynx population to continue existing are reintroduction, replacing poached lynxes, and exchanging orphan lynxes between care facilities. This will give the population a chance to grow and connect with other populations in Europe, The Guardian reports.
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