Canadian wildcat makes 2,000-kilometre trek home
Saturday, April 10 2010 @ 01:14 PM EDT
Contributed by: jkr
It's not called the Canada lynx for nothing.
Wildlife experts are describing as "incredible" the 2,000-kilometre journey home of a tuft-eared wildcat that was captured as a young adult in British Columbia in 2003 and transported to Colorado for a landmark lynx-reintroduction program — where it sired at least six offspring — before being trapped this winter in Alberta.
That's right: the cat came back. And its homeward-bound, cross-border odyssey to Canada, culminating with its death on a trap line north of Banff National Park in January, is the longest ever recorded for the species — by far.
Despite the animal's unfortunate end, its epic trek over such a vast expanse of North America — across countless highways, numerous mountain ranges and probably a stretch of northwest Colorado desert — is being hailed as an inspiring sign of nature's resilience after generations of severe habitat loss and depleted wildlife populations.
The journey of the nine-year-old lynx — known to scientists in Canada and the United States as specimen BC-03-M-02 — is bound to become a classic case study for the continent's biologists, says University of Alberta lynx researcher Gabby Yates.
"The fact that he made his way back so far, and fairly close to his original location in B.C. — that's not too shabby for not having a GPS," she told Canwest News Service. "It's just amazing."
Yates was conducting a lynx-tracking project this winter in southwestern Alberta, where the animal is plentiful, when Rocky Mountain House trapper Brian Anger — who had been collaborating with her team to try to avoid capturing radio-tagged animals — called to break the news that a collared lynx had been killed in one of his neck snares.
"He was absolutely horrified," Yates recalled. "I asked him to read the ear tag. But he said there was no ear tag."
Instead, the animal was wearing a neck collar that read: PLEASE RETURN TO COLORADO FISH & WILDLIFE.
"I just started screaming," Yates said. "Colorado! It's so far. We know that these cats travel, but the long-distance records we have are about 1,000 kilometres — and those are few and far between. This really blows all of the other records out of the water."
Tanya Shenk, the state wildlife officer who had been tracking the lynx in Colorado, agreed that the life history of BC-03-M-02 — a code name based on the cat's birthplace, year of capture, sex and ID number — is one for the scientific record books.
"It teaches us that these animals can make such incredible, remarkable journeys," she said Friday, "and that he was in good body condition when he got back to the North."
The lynx was live-trapped in 2003 near Kamloops, B.C., as part of a unique, bi-national effort to transplant lynx from Canada to the animal's historical habitat in southwestern Colorado.