Caught on camera: Rare lynx sightings in French Alps

The animals had disappeared in the 20th century but have slowly made a comeback, and have remained relatively mysterious - until now

29 March 2021
A lynx caught on a hidden camera. Caught on camera: Rare lynx sightings in French AlpsHidden cameras have captured images of the elusive feline in Chartreuse
By Hannah Thompson

Sightings of lynx wild cats which had disappeared from the Alps in the 20th century have increased between Isère and Savoie as specialists capture the elusive animal on automatic cameras.

The lynx - otherwise common in European forests - had been considered extinct in the Alps in France in the 20th century, largely due to hunting and deforestation.

From the 1970s, the lynx was reintroduced into the Swiss Jura, and then in Vosges. It has since made a discreet comeback in the area.

Their presence has been registered in the Chartreuse mountains since 1990, but they remain relatively mysterious, with little known about their breeding, or how many there are in the area.

Video: © Thibaut Lacombe/Jérôme Bailly RNHC (Parc Naturel Régional de Chartreuse) / France3

Specialists and observers include volunteers and professionals, from the Office Français de la Biodiversité (OFB), and organisations that monitor the natural reserve, la Réserve Naturelle des Hauts de Chartreuse, in the Parc Naturel Régional de Chartreuse.

Hidden cameras have captured images of the elusive feline in Chartreuse, helping researchers learn more about their behaviour and to trace each individual cat.

Video: © Olivier Janet / France3

The animals look similar to domestic cats, but are much bigger; at around 60cm tall, and weigh 20 kilos. They mainly eat squirrels and have very sharp teeth.

They can camouflage in the forest surroundings, and run extremely fast. They approach their prey slowly and carefully, before pouncing quickly and trapping them in their mouths.

Lynx live alone, and can travel in an area of more than 200 square kilometres. 

They also have distinctive markings on their fur, allowing researchers to identify them.

Benoît Maréchal, from the OFB Savoie, told France 3: “To signal its presence to [other lynx], passing males, or a female looking for a mate, they mark their landmarks, such as rocks, by urinating.” 

This “passing by” is often caught on hidden cameras.

Video: ©J. Maistre / France3

The OFB is now creating a central, national file on these images, and will use them to compare lynx markings, with the help of new software created just for these animals; allowing specialists to recognise each of them individually.

Jérôme Bailly, technical guardian of the Parc Naturel régional de Chartreuse, said: “They keep the same markings throughout their entire lives. They are its ID card.”

Since 2017, more than 200 photos and videos have permitted specialists to identify seven lynx in Chartreuse, although there is no evidence of reproduction in that area so far, or any clear sign of whether the animals are wandering further afield.

In 2016, a female and three cubs were spotted by a hidden camera further north, in the Bourget, in the Clergeon range.

Video: ©Benoît Maréchal OFB / France3

If you are out walking in the Chartreuse area or nearby, and you see a lynx, you can contact the Parc de Chartreuse to report it, or call on 04 76 88 75 20.

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