“Without the hunters, we wouldn’t have been able to push the project through!”

Under the LIFE Lynx project, a total of 18 lynx have been caught in the Carpathians and translocated to Slovenia and Croatia to strengthen the local lynx populations there. The project has been extremely successful, also due to the the collaboration with the hunters. We spoke to Maja Sever and Rok Černe from the Slovenian Forest Authority about the project.

Lynx licking its paw in the snow
© depositphotos: Volodymyr Burdiak

The lynx is back in the Dinaric Alps. To what extent is that good news for nature?

Maja Sever: The lynx in the past disappeared from Dinaric Alps, was later on reintroduced, however the number of animals had repeatedly hit a very low level. There was the threat of loss of genetic diversity, which could have spelt the end of lynx in Slovenia and Croatia. The fact that there are now around 150 of them patrolling the mountains and forests of the Slovenian and the Dinaric Alps is fantastic news for the whole entire Eurasian lynx population

Rok Černe: Without the lynx, evolution would have come to a halt here. The species are all interconnected with each other in complex ways. The behaviour of prey is significantly influenced by the presence of large predators. Deer are noticeably shyer in areas where there are wolves and lynx. A well-known example is the Yellowstone National Park where the changes have been overwhelmingly positive since the return of the wolf. And in central Europe it’s very similar. We need the large predators for a functioning ecosystem. 

Bike trail through Dinaric Alps

Whether on foot or by bike, visitors can learn a lot about the biology of the animals on the lynx trail through Slovenia and Croatia. There are also marvellous views of the landscape.

© GravGrav

So nature gains from the presence of more lynx. Can the local population also benefit from the return of the lynx?

Maja Sever: Those living in the mountain villages in the Dinaric Alps, are living in an economically underdeveloped region. Tourism is an important source of income here. As part of the project, we have really opened up the tourism opportunities for those interested in the lynx. There is a 90 km hiking trail through Slovenia and Croatia offering information about the lynx at several points along the way. The hikers will be unlikely to see any lynx because the animals are so shy, but they can find out all about these cats, their habitat and their behaviour. Working together with the Austrian cycling community GravGrav, we have also adapted the path for cyclists and mountain bikers. 

Rok Černe: In addition to all of this, there are also smaller lynx information trails of particular interest to school groups. With these, it’s all about engaging them with the topic in a playful way. In fact in 2023, one of these information trails won the Slovenian Tourist Authority award for the best themed trail.

Hunter setting a wildlife camera on a tree

A Slovenian hunter installs a camera trap in the lynx territory.

© LIFE Lynx / Urša Fleža

You got the hunters on board from the very beginning. Why was this group in particular so important for the success of the project? And how did that collaboration go?

Rok Černe: Back in 1973, when lynx were reintroduced to the Dinaric Alps for the first time, it was the hunters and foresters who carried out the reintroductions. Then it was mainly a question of bringing back an extinct species but also about bringing in an attractive species to hunt. This time it was purely about species conservation, but the hunters and foresters were no less committed. The Slovenian Forest Authority and the national hunting organisation were partners in the LIFE Lynx project and came out clearly in support of it. At a local level, the hunting ground supervisors and forest rangers were heavily involved. Each individual camera trap in the local terrain was put up by us together with the hunters; they know the lynx’s routes best. The hunters were then also responsible for maintaining the camera traps. 

Catching a lynx on a camera trap gave the hunters quite a challenge. It’s almost like trophy hunting but this time with living animals.

Rok Černe, Project coordinator LIFE Lynx Rok Černe
Honouring a hunter as part of "LIFE Lynx"

Honouring the chairman of a hunting club for a successful reintroduction into the wild

© Pavel Korosec

Maja Sever: The hunters and foresters looked after the lynx that were waiting in enclosures to be reintroduced to the wild. And at the end it was them who opened the door to freedom for those animals – an emotional moment. When I look back, our collaboration with the hunting authorities and with the local hunters worked out brilliantly. The figures prove it: 90 percent of the foresters and hunters see the presence of lynx in Slovenia as something positive. Without them, we could not have pushed the LIFE Lynx project through.

Does the return of lynx to the Dinaric Alps teach us anything about how to deal with other large predators?

Maja Sever: In Slovenia, there are wolves, bears and lynx; the latter species certainly has the highest level of acceptance by the population. There are no incidents involving people and even attacks on livestock by lynx are very rare. Despite this, we had many discussions with the local population and took their possible concerns seriously.

It is important to strike a balance between the concerns of the locals and our conservation goals. This is the only way we can ensure the long-term survival of large predators in central Europe.

Maja Sever from the Slovenian forestry authority Maja Sever

Rok Černe: I advocate a thoroughly pragmatic approach to dealing with large predators. If there’s an animal that represents a threat to humans, we should remove it. Misconceptions about animal conservation can harm the arguments for species conservation.

The project ended in spring 2024. You were both there right from the start. What was your personal highlight during LIFE Lynx?

Rok and Maja agree: Do we have to limit ourselves to one? There were so many! Probably the greatest highlight is the story of the lynx Goru. He came to us from the Carpathian Mountains at the end of April 2019 and after three weeks patrolling around he met Teja, a local resident female. The mating season was already over so we expected them to both go their separate ways. Lynx are actually real loners. However, apparently there must have been a spark between Goru und Teja. In the summer she gave birth to a cub, which is very unusual at such a late point. In 2020 they mated again, this time in the “normal” mating season in winter and produced more offspring. And now Goru is a grandfather. We are very proud of him. 

Lynx Goru before his release

Lynx Goru in the enclosure, shortly before his release into the wild. He is well on his way to becoming a progenitor for new generations of lynx in the Dinarides.

© Aleš Pičulin

The interview was conducted by Christian Stielow.


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