On the far north end of Big Cat Trail is one of the smallest and most overlooked felines at the San Diego Zoo, the Siberian lynx. Lacking the celebrity of Orson the jaguar, the local familiarity of the cougars, the alluring elusiveness of the snow leopards, or the extreme rarity of the Amur leopards, our lynx still have much to offer to make them a worthwhile visit for cat fans.
At 16 years old, our lynx are definitely considered senior citizens, but, interestingly, they are two of our more active cats! Skyy, the female, has a very playful side. Whether it’s batting around a toy or tossing a rabbit carcass up in the air before eating it, she is probably the one cat you are most likely to see this type of play from. Stoli, the male, is more on the vocal side. Sometimes he gets impatient waiting for his daily meal and starts tromping around his exhibit, yowling in protest.
When resting, they use their natural camouflage to hide in plain sight. Often, especially on warm summer days, the lynx lounge under the large honeysuckle in their exhibit, only a few feet from the visitor path. They blend in so well that many people miss seeing them, despite the fact that the lynx are literally right in front of them! On your next visit, take the time to look carefully—the lynx are probably closer than you think. Their trademark ear tufts often give them away.
Because of a combination of their smaller stature and extremely secretive behavior, small cats like the lynx draw much less attention than their larger cousins, but they face much of the same threats to their survival. Siberian lynx populations are still relatively wide spread throughout their range, but they are still regularly hunted for their fur. In Europe, lynx are much rarer, with only isolated pockets existing where they used to be widespread. Fortunately, some countries in Europe have had successful reintroduction programs. Spain has its own unique species known as the Spanish or Iberian lynx. Isolated from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenees Mountains, this cat evolved separately from the rest of the Old World lynx populations. With a population of only 300, the Iberian lynx has the unfortunate distinction of being considered Europe’s most endangered carnivore and the most endangered cat species on Earth. Habitat loss and eradication of their favorite prey, the rabbit, has caused this species to plummet drastically over the last century. The few remaining populations are intensively managed by the Spanish government to ensure their continued survival.
Here in North America, we also have our own species of lynx. The Canadian lynx is widespread in Alaska and Canada but has been exterminated from most of its natural range throughout the continental US. Early this year, excitement for the potential recovery of the animal was stirred when pictures of a pair of lynx were taken in southern Colorado. The more familiar bobcat is technically classified as a lynx and is widespread across the US, sometimes even adapting to life in heavily urbanized areas. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to have a bobcat cross my path in Peñasquitos Canyon right here in San Diego!
Make sure you stop by and spend some time enjoying the antics of Stoli and Skyy and gain a whole new appreciation of small cats.
Todd Speis is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Orson: Two Decades as Jaguar Ambassador.