Lynx sightings around Fairbanks reach new heights

Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 5:00 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Keep an eye open outdoors this winter for the large tracks and fluffy coats of Canada lynx, as sightings in the Fairbanks area have occurred with more frequency than the last decade.

Canada lynx are wild northern cats found throughout most of Alaska’s boreal forests. The winter of 2020 saw an unusual spike in the number of lynx sightings in and around the Fairbanks area.

Mike Taras, a Wildlife Education and Outreach Specialist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game provided an overview of this phenomenon and its causes. “At the Fish and Game office where we take calls about wildlife, we have gotten a pretty much unprecedented number of calls about lynx sightings, and also lynx that are basically getting around people’s homes and causing a nuisance with pets and livestock. I don’t think anyone in our office has heard of that happening before in the last 18-20 years.”

Lynx populations are cyclical, rising and falling alongside the population of their preferred prey species, the snowshoe hare. These populations peak and fall in a cycle roughly every 8 to 10 years.

So why are there so many lynx sightings? Tars said, “Well we’re not 100% sure, other than that the hare populations have plummeted, so lately there’s a high lynx population. They don’t have a lot of food so they’re moving around a lot more than they normally would and they’re hungry. There’s not a lot of food resource out there so they’re finding other sources of food including chickens, getting into chicken coops.”

When lynx have ample access to their preferred prey, their population swells, reducing the standing population of that prey species. This forces the surviving lynx to seek alternate food sources.

“Unfortunately for those lynx when they peak at their highest, the hare population has already crashed, and therefore their food resource becomes pretty scarce. Then the lynx population is at its maximum. So for about 1-2 years after the hare population declines, lynx stop. They may stop producing young, and then a lot of the animals out there will die and the population will go down again to a low. Then over the next 3-10 years it’ll slowly rebuild itself,” said Taras.

Fortunately lynx are highly unlikely to pose any threat to humans, or interact with them at all. However the same cannot be said for livestock or for pets. Taras warned, “The lynx may just sit there are stare at a person, and then people think ‘Oh there’s something wrong with this animal,’ but they’re very curious animals and that’s what they may do. We just don’t see them very often so we don’t recognize that behavior. The concern is over small pets, really. If you have small dogs and cats, you gotta really be careful about leaving them out, you know, make sure that they’re secure, that you’re around with them, ‘cause they [lynx] have attacked some of those animals this year.”

According to Taras this will be the best opportunity to observe and photograph these animals and their tracks for the next decade, as their population will begin to decline very rapidly in the next two years.

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