A Canada lynx was found in the mountains southwest of Salmon this week, exciting Salmon-Challis National Forest wildlife officials, who caught a glimpse of the rare feline for the first time since 1991.
The lynx was first spotted by a recreationist in the area. Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist Beth Waterbury said state officials weren't sure at first that it was a lynx—bobcats are more common, and legal to trap—but headed to the scene to investigate, regardless.
What they found was an approximately 20-pound cat with a paw caught in a legally set bobcat foothold trap.
Waterbury said the animal appeared to be uninjured when it was found, and ran away without a visible limp once released.
"There was no blood, no obvious signs of broken toes," she said. "It's just probably going to be sore for a few days."
Fish and Game biologists gathered hair and scat samples from the cat to help determine gender and origin. While the cat appeared to be a native, wild lynx, Waterbury said appearances might be deceiving.
"There is a very remote chance that it could a hybrid lynx that someone would keep as a pet that was released into the wild," she said.
Wildlife officials have found and documented bobcat-lynx hybrids in Wisconsin. Waterbury said the genetic tests would make a definitive determination.
Lynx are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Fewer than 40 have been recorded in the Salmon-Challis region since 1896. Records include trapping logs and a layperson's track observation recorded in 2010.
Waterbury said that though members of the public have reported seeing tracks far more often than department biologists have seen them, tracks are not always verifiable.
"We have had some really incredible observations, but there is no way of documenting those," she said. "It can be hard to distinguish a lynx from a bobcat."
While bobcats are elusive, lynx are even more so, choosing to hide from recreationists and rarely caught in traps.
"If lynx are around, it's very doubtful anyone hiking or skiing is even going to know the animal is there," Waterbury said. "They are ghosts of the forest, you could say."
Salmon-Challis National Forest spokesman Ken Fuellenbach said that unlike cougars or bears, lynx are not known to be dangerous to humans.
"They are usually quite reclusive," he said. "They are rare even in this area, but where they are, they're hard to spot. I've never heard of any attacks."
Waterbury said trappers should take care to avoid lynx habitat when attempting to trap bobcats. Lynx prefer young, coniferous forests where snowshoe hares—the species' main prey—abound, while the slightly smaller bobcats live in less-forested areas.
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynx and bobcats are two separate species, though they are closely related. For a story on bobcats, the lynx's more common cousin, search "Bobcats—Phantoms of the wild" on our homepage, www.mtexpress.com.