The elusive Eurasian lynx is in danger of disappearing completely from France, according to a Monday study that called for urgent action to boost the population of isolated feral cats.
There are up to 150 adult lynxes hidden in the mountains of northeastern France, cut off from healthier feral cat populations in Germany and Switzerland, according to the scientists behind the genetic study published in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.
“Given the rapid loss of genetic diversity, we estimate that this population will become extinct in less than 30 years,” said co-author Nathan Huvier of the Center Athenas, a nature reserve in eastern France.
“This population urgently needs new genetic material to become sustainable.”
The lynx, which disappeared in France in the early 20th century, was reintroduced in the 1970s and spread through the Jura Mountains along the French-Swiss border, where the majority of the population remains.
Huvier said there may be poaching, but the biggest threat to the lynxes is cars, as their territory is “highly fragmented” by roads.
Last year, conservationists in the area recorded 22 vehicle collisions. Only one lynx survived.
To study the Jurassic population, the researchers collected genetic samples from lynxes treated for injuries, orphaned cubs or found dead between 2008 and 2020.
They compared 78 of the samples with reference data from the parent population in the Carpathian Mountains of Central Europe.
The researchers found that while the total French population is estimated to be between 120 and 150 individuals, there are only an estimated 38 lynx that are believed to have enough genetic diversity to breed healthily.
The authors warned that without a breeding program to introduce new genetic material to the population, it is likely to collapse.
“The lynx is an apex predator and thus a cornerstone of its ecosystem,” Huvier told AFP.
“The fact that it’s back in France is excellent news and that’s why it’s so important to protect this population (as well as all other populations) and help it continue to develop.”
French authorities last year expressed concern about the decline of the lynx population and launched a national plan to restore the species.
But calls to boost the population by introducing more lynx have met resistance from hunters and farmers, who prefer the animal’s population to increase naturally.