Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme 2006-2009
The present population of the Balkan lynx - described as an own subspecies Lynx lynx martinoi - is estimated to be less than 100 individuals which are distributed in Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. The critical status of this most threatened autochthonous lynx population of Europe has been known for a long time, but the war-like commotions and insecurity in the region has hindered conservation action over the past years. With an improvement of the situation within the last years, it has been possible to start actions and national and international awareness towards the Balkan lynx has increased. Within the range countries of the Balkan lynx, there is an insufficient number of experts available who have been working with wildlife protection in general and lynx in particular. Consequently, biology, ecology and history of the species are not well understood and no reliable data exists concerning the population size and distribution of the Balkan Lynx. Therefore, expert education and research plays a key role in the protection of the species.
Obvious threats for lynx have been (and still are) direct persecution, decline of prey populations, as well as loss and fragmentation of habitat. Today, important remnant nuclei of the lynx occurrence are only found in the border areas between Macedonia and Albania, spreading north into Montenegro and the Kosovo - areas which for many years were restricted and human impact was non existent. These border areas form a green line and offer important habitats for many species, including the Balkan lynx, while a better part of the surrounding landscape is heavily degraded due to overuse or fragmentation. Today, this line is known as the southernmost part of the "European Green Belt", called the "Balkan Green Belt". Spacious forests providing a sufficient number of prey form key habitats for the Balkan lynx. Particularly in Albania though, forests are strongly degraded due to the political isolation in the second half of the 20th century. After the break with China which was the last ally of Albania the country adopted a policy of autarky. In order to secure energy supply, most forests were logged. Additionally, the high grazing and browsing pressure from goats and sheep prevented any forest regeneration. The severe over-use caused and still causes heavy topsoil erosion and land degradation in significant parts of the Albania. In order to allow the Balkan lynx to survive, forest habitats have to be protected, respectively be re-established.
Aims and Activities of the Project
The aim of the Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme is to secure the survival of the population through a series of protected areas and improved wildlife management within and outside future transboundary protected areas along the border lines of Albania and Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro as well as Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo. The protected areas will be established in areas where - according to recent information - there are strongholds of the Balkan Lynx. To do so, a set of baseline information needs to be generated to establish a reliable monitoring programme. This implies a strong partnership between governmental and non-governmental institutions on national and international level, increased public awareness and public involvement, and - above all - capacity building in nature conservation and wildlife research and management. The project covers the conservation activities for a three-years period starting in October 2006. It will not be possible to recover the Balkan lynx into a viable population within this short period. The minimum goals to achieve are however:
- to halt the further decline of the Balkan lynx population and to secure its survival in the protected areas of the Green Belt;
- to generate all knowledge needed for a sensible long-term conservation programme;
- to build the professional capacity needed for the maintenance of this long-term programme in the region;
- and to create an atmosphere favourable to nature conservation through solid partnership, public awareness and involvement.
Furthermore, we aim to start certain limited projects - e.g. in ecological fieldwork or in sustainable land use - which can then serve as models for other projects.
The Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme is implemented by several international and national NGOs. The Swiss KORA and EuroNatur are international implementing partners while the NGOs MES (Macedonian Ecolgical Society) and PPNEA (Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania) are national implementing partners. Additionally, other NGOs in both countries and the relevant governmental agencies in the range countries as well as international institutions such as the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, the IUCN SSC Working Group Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe (LCIE) and the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group will be involved.