Lynx (Felis lynx canadensis) were reported in the park in the early years of this century. Bailey (1927) reported that "there are said to be a very few Canada lynxes, but we saw no tracks or signs of them," during a July 1926 outing in Yellowstone backcountry by more than 200 Audubon Society members. Skinner (1927) estimated a lynx population of 10 with stationary status. By the mid-1940s, lynx were reported as extremely scarce. Annual reports of wildlife in the park list lynx as a "rare native" in the late 1960s, but in the early 1970s this animal was not listed as present.
Consolo Murphy and Meagher (in press) reported a total of 57 records of lynx on file in Yellowstone for the period 1883-1995, all but one of which were within park boundaries. Sightings were reported 34 times and tracks reported 17 times, both throughout the park, although more reports occurred in the southern half of Yellowstone. Lynx were reported more often in winter, although all months are represented in these records. Since 1995 there have been two reports of lynx, both in 1997, in the northern half of the park. The Smithsonian Museum has a skull of a female lynx reportedly collected from an unspecified location in Yellowstone in 1904. Museums at the Universities of Idaho and Wyoming have no specimens of lynx collected in Yellowstone. The park has a record in the park archives, dated 1905, of a lynx having been killed here. Neither has research been conducted to determine whether transient or resident populations exist. Sightings by visitors or employees are the only evidence we have of the possible presence of these animals that so closely resemble bobcats (Felis rufus) that sightings are difficult to verify. Consolo Murphy and Meagher concluded that evidence is too scant to reliably state that a resident population of lynx exists in the park today, if it did historically.
As part of a proposed settlement over a lawsuit filed by the Defenders of Wildlife and 14 other organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently proposed to take action to list the Canada lynx under the Endangered Species Act. A series of legal actions regarding the lynx have been pending since 1991. The USFWS determined that lynx were historically resident in 16 of the contiguous United States, and that they currently occur at low levels in Montana, Washington, and Maine. They are rare in Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, Colorado, Vermont, and New Hampshire; the USFWS believes they have been extirpated from New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Publication of a proposed rule in the Federal Register is planned for the summer of 1998, followed by a public comment period to actively solicit new information about the status of lynx, related threats, and ongoing conservation activities.
Adult lynx are about the size of a large domestic cat. Males can weigh upwards of 30 pounds, while females are smaller. Lynx have large legs and broad, well-furred paws, blunt tails, and prominent tufted ears. Lynx are generally grayish-brown with white, buff, or brown on the facial ruff and throat. Limited studies suggest that lynx breed in April or May, and give birth to three to five kittens in late May or June. Lynx are usually found in boreal forests and they tolerate deep snow quite well. They are commonly associated with snowshoe hares, but may also prey on squirrels, grouse and mice. The conifer forests, semi-open and rocky areas of the park seem to offer summer conditions suitable for both bobcats and lynx--adequate shelter, a variety of rodents, rabbits, hares, birds, and other small animals for food. Lynx survive similarly severe winter weather conditions in Canada. Research there has shown that bobcats, another native wildcat, and lynx are seldom found in the same area as bobcats are more aggressive and may dominate. Whether this behavioral factor may affect living conditions for lynx in Yellowstone is presently unknown.
The similarity between lynx and bobcats makes it difficult to determine their status in Yellowstone. A large adult bobcat may be larger than a small adult lynx, so size is not a good characteristic for positive identification. Both bobcats and lynx have ear "tufts" of black hair. Although lynx are more solidly gray and bobcats are often buffy and have many black spots, larger bobcats usually have fewer spots and some turn almost solidly gray in winter, so general coloration is also a difficult characteristic for distant identification. If you see one of these small wildcats and have time, good light, and binoculars, look at the inside of the cat’s forelegs. There are no black bars there on a lynx, although there may be some dark spots. Also, the tip of the tail of a lynx is solidly black. (The upper side of a bobcat's tail has several dark bands that become more distinct toward the tip but the underside of the tip itself is white.)
If you find only tracks, measure and photograph them carefully, then consult a track field guide for identification. Bobcat tracks seldom exceed 2 1/4 inches; lynx tracks usually are longer than 3 1/2 inches. And consider yourself lucky to see any of the three felids that may exist in Yellowstone (bobcat, mountain lion, lynx). These rare and elusive cats are most active at night, so even those who study them seldom have an opportunity to see one! If you think you see a lynx or lynx tracks, please report them promptly to a ranger or visitor center. For animals so rarely recorded, every observation is useful and important.
In recent years, the park has experimented with non-harmful methods to determine the presence of some rarely seen animals, by sampling for snow tracks and guard hairs. To date, the presence of lynx has not been confirmed by these methods.
Bailey, V. 1927. Animal Life in Yellowstone Park. Sierra Club Bull. Vol XII, No. 4:333-344.
Consolo Murphy, S. and M. Meagher. In press. The status of wolverine, lynx, and fisher in Yellowstone National park. Predators and ecosystems: proceedings of the third biennial conference on the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Northern Rockies Cons. Coop., Jackson, Wyo.
Skinner, M.P. 1927. The Predatory and Fur-bearing Animals of the Yellowstone National Park. Roosevelt Wild Life Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 27. Syracuse Univ., Syracuse, N.Y. 284 pp.
Did You Know?
Even though the animals of Yellowstone seem tame they are still wild. Feeding the animals is not permitted in any way, and all visitors must keep 100 yards away from wolves and bears, and 25 yards from other animals.