The Story of BC-03-M-02, Traveling Lynx
Just reading a story here in the Denver Post about BC-03-M-02, a lynx that was found in a trap near Nordegg, Alberta, Canada, on Jan. 28.
The cat, which was nine years old when found, had traveled 1,200 miles of wilderness, interstate highways, rivers and other parts of civilization in the last couple years. It had been trapped near the place where it had been captured six years ago, flown to Colorado and re-released at the edge of the Weminuche Wilderness Area near Creede on April 16, 2004. (The Denver Post story says 2003, but trust me on this one.)
Because, as it happens, Billie and I were in that open meadow just across from the Rio Grande on that crisp morning when BC-03-M-02 and three of its brethren were released. The Division of Wildlife had invited volunteers from environmental groups to witness this release, part of an ambitious DOW program that had begun in 1999 to reintroduce lynx, which had disappeared in the state at least back to 1973. As a volunteer for Sinapu, I applauded the reintroduction program as a step toward keeping our wilderness areas intact and healthy and a positive move by DOW that was well received by conservationists, hunters and environmentalists.
The DOW tracked BC-03-M-02, recording that he sired at least two kittens in 2005 and four in 2006. He was last heard from April 20, 2007. He walked farther than any lynx has ever been known to travel. (Fly from Creede to Nordegg on Google Earth for some idea of the enormity of the journey.) When he was found, he was in good shape, two pounds heavier than when released. And he was almost home.
Except perhaps in a cage, we had never seen a lynx. From my journal:
“It was about a forty-five minute drive from South Fork to this gorgeous setting in a small meadow along the Rio Grande. A high bluff rises behind us along the road, and a spruce forest before us stretches up a couple thousand feet. Off to our right are snow-covered peaks that stretch up the valley.
The two pickup trucks with the lynx park on a dirt road at the edge of the meadow. The cages, made of steel, are covered with white tarps. As we pull in behind them, a little ground squirrel is bouncing around on the grass in the meadow. He will soon have new friends.
More cars arrive, about ten in all, and perhaps forty people have gathered, including, for some reason, a member of Sen. Lieberman’s entourage. One of the new wildlife commission members is introduced, in a spiffy fleece jacket with a DOW patch on the right sleeve.
The crates are taken from the trucks and carried, four persons to a crate, out onto the grass, all facing the meadow with the humans all gathered behind.
DOW interim chief, Bruce McCloskey, gives a short talk and answers questions. The lynx, he ensures us, are in the best shape they can possibly be; they have been probed and checked and are healthy as lynx can be under the circumstances.
This quartet was captured in Quebec and British Columbia in late December and have been kept on private property near here that a donor is in the process of turning over to the DOW. The lynx have been in pens about four months
While waiting for the release, we chat with Laurie Harvey, who describes herself as a “lynx technician.” She says the lynx have been in separate enclosures that measure about 12 feet long, five feet wide and five feet in height.
They stay in their cages and consider them a “nest box,” she explains, a quiet place where they can go and be by themselves. They have areas to climb on and exercise, and the lynx take advantage of the chance to work out. They are fed mostly rabbits, and she said the animals exhibit no signs of cage stress.
The most interesting thing she learned about the lynx, she said, was the wide range of behavior they showed toward people, from one animal that would allow her to get close to it and work in the cage to others that would get defensive whenever anyone so much as touched the cage.
The lynx each weigh about 26 pounds, and their blood and body fluids have been checked. They are in prime condition for release, Harvey said. She is in her second year of working with lynx and plans to sign up again for next season, though she admitted the work is hard and that “you shovel a lot of shit.”
The meadow is free of snow, but little patches still hug the spruce at the edges. Spring is popping up. Two fellows who look like McCloskey describes them – “snowshoe extremists” — stand and tell stories of following lynx and putting new collars on them. They trap them with cages much like those that bore them out here, except that they have a guillotine door. When the lynx goes for the meat in the back of the cage, the door closes down on them.
They explain that the pine forest just above us is perfect lynx habitat, with plenty of snowshoe hares and cover for these sensitive predators. The DOW is releasing some more down near Durango later in the day, and McCloskey and a few other honchos are heading there after this is over.
These lynx are radio-tracked by airplane and followed on foot by these trappers, ready and seemingly eager to follow lynx tracks at 11,000 feet in snowstorms. Like the guy from Washington, they are in Western wear that look like they’ve worn the same clothes for a month.
Chief McCloskey, in overalls, and the guy from Washington who looked as if he bought the jeans and the bright blue bandana around his neck for the occasion, each spoke about what a great thing the reintroduction program is. McCloskey introduced the people who would be allowed to actually pull the last barrier off the cages and let the lynx loose. Then we all gathered behind the four cages.
The one at the far left went out first. The DOW officer cut the wire and took off the first door. Two people stepped up and pulled the second metal door up and out.
Within about ten or fifteen seconds, the first lynx walked out. It took one look back, and within about a minute it was out of sight off to the right into a grove of pine trees.
It seemed smaller than I expected from photographs, but the long ears and bushy tail grabbed my immediate attention. I could also see what appeared to be part of its radio tag around its neck.
The second one is freed about two minutes later. It heads off to the left into some trees in the direction of the picnic tables. The third goes straight ahead into some trees; the fourth can be seen walking past a wooden platform along an established trail.
All four vanished within a minute. Heading into a brave new world, hopefully one with abundant snowshoe hare and a sexual encounter with the patter of little lynx two and a half months later.
I looked around and noticed tears in some people’s eyes. I was welling up, too, proud to be witness to this. For one who believes that our wilderness needs predators for its general health, this is as sweet as it gets. We were watching standard-bearers for a new generation of lynx in Colorado, a foreign land for them, bound for their individual fates. Where will they wind up?”
At least now, for one of those, we have the answer.