Eurasian lynxes were once distributed from the Pyrenees to the Pacific coast of Asia. In Central Europe, they were one of the big carnivores, along with bears and wolves. But in the 19th century, the secret forest dwellers were almost wiped out all over Europe. Humans moved ever further into the animals’ habitat and killed roe deer, red deer and wild boar – the typical prey of the Eurasian lynx.
Due to the lack of food, the big cats were forced to switch to other prey such as goats and sheep. Because people wanted to protect their livestock, lynx were hunted. With fatal consequences: the last lynx was killed in the Fichtelgebirge in 1833, and the last specimen was killed in the Bavarian Forest in 1846. In 1897 the Eurasian lynx had disappeared from the entire Alpine region. Lynx populations could only survive in isolated areas of Eastern Europe, Russia and Scandinavia. Today, the species is considered a particularly protected species in the Federal Nature Conservation Act and the Federal Species Protection Ordinance.
Europe’s largest wild cat has not been sighted in the wild for many years. But in recent years, thanks to successful resettlement projects such as the EU LIFE lynx project, the Eurasian lynx has been returning. Between 1983 and 1993, 21 lynxes were successfully released into the wild in the French southern and central Vosges. As a result, there were repeated sightings in Germany towards the end of the 1990s, which is why lynx monitoring has been in place in the Palatinate Forest since 1999.
Efforts have been made to resettle the Eurasian lynx in German forests for more than 50 years. In 1970 the first seven animals were released in the Bavarian Forest. By 1989, 18 more lynx were released into the wild in the neighboring Czech national park Šumava. In the meantime, around 120 to 140 Eurasian lynxes are again roaming through the Bohemian-Bavarian-Austrian forest area. So far, Germany’s largest lynx population exists in the Harz Mountains, with 137 animals. Offspring have already been observed in Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Hesse and Thuringia. A positive trend, but the number is still too small for the lynx to survive in the long term.
In order to strengthen the lynx population in Germany, the largest small cat in Europe is now to be permanently settled in Rhineland-Palatinate. The Palatinate Forest-Northern Vosges Biosphere Reserve offers suitable habitat for around 45 independent lynxes. In the approximately 3,000 km² large contiguous forest area, the predators find sufficient food, cover, caves and retreat areas.