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Fauna Series No. 3







Faunal Position

Life Zones







Fauna of the National Parks — No. 3
Birds and Mammals of Mount McKinley National Park
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Lynx canadensis canadensis [KERR]

GENERAL APPEARANCE.—A typical bobtailed cat about the size of an Airedale. The legs are long; the feet are large; the tail is very short and it has a black tip. The ears have black tufs and the fur is long and silky. The general coloration of this animal is gray. A large female which was killed by Sheldon on the Toklat River on May 24, 1908, measured: Length, 37 inches; tail, 4.75 inches; hind foot, 9.75 inches.

IDENTIFICATION.—The stubby bobtail and tufed ears of the lynx serve to distinguish it at a glance from all other animals in the park. In winter the soles of the broad feet are thickly padded with hair so that the lynx leaves a larger track in the snow which is more indistinct than the track of the coyote or the red fox, and also larger than the imprint in the sand.

DISTRIBUTION.—It is distributed generally over boreal North America. In Mount McKinley Park the lynx is generally found in timbered areas but when hard pressed by hunger it may be found above timber line and on the open tundra. The lynx population is rather closely dependent upon the number of varying hares present in a locality.

HABITS.—The Canada lynx is an animal that captures its prey by stealth—by hidden approach and sudden surprise. In order to make this type of hunting a success there must be some sort of cover. For this reason the lynx is normally found in the spruce woods or in the willow thickets of the McKinley region where the rabbits are most numerous.

During seasons when varying hares are scarce the lynx turns to other game. Thus a fat female lynx killed May 24, 1908, by Charles Sheldon, had its stomach full of mice and one ground squirrel. In the early spring lynx tracks in the snow showed that the big cats had also been following ptarmigan through the dense willow thickets.

The most surprising aspect of all the food habits of the lynx is the fact that during severe winters this animal will actually attack and kill a mountain sheep. On December 8, 1907, near the Toklat River, Charles Sheldon encountered a male lynx which weighed 20 pounds. It was crouching beside a half dead 20 months-old ram. Fresh tracks in the snow showed that the lynx had crept down upon the sheep from above and had laid low on a ledge over a gully until the young grazing ram had come within range. Then the lynx had leaped upon the sheep's back. It had reached forward and had bitten the ram's right eye until it had gouged it out. The ram's left eye had also been badly chewed but the eye had not been completely torn out of the socket. Again, on January 3, 1908, near the north base of Denali, Charles Sheldon found a ewe in her second year that had likewise been killed by a lynx which had sprung upon her and had completely gouged out her left eye. Sheldon explains that the thick long hair which covers a sheep's body and neck in winter would prevent a lynx with its small jaws from attempting to attack the sheep's body. The eyes therefore are the most vulnerable point of seizure for the lynx.

The lynx is a good swimmer and has been known to swim across the Yukon River.

In speaking of the cry of the lynx Sheldon says (1930, p. 133), "It was a rather low catlike 'meow' somewhat prolonged and repeated three times." Out of the many months spent in Alaska and the Yukon this was the one and only time Sheldon ever heard a lynx call.

The Canada lynx is one of the rarer mammals in Mount McKinley Park. After several good rabbit years they become more numerous and then decline in numbers as the rabbits become less abundant.

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