Considered to be a national symbol, and placed on the back of the 5 denar coin, the Macedonian wildcat, the Balkan lynx, is one of the rarest animals in the world. Around 100 specimens are believed to be scattered around the Balkans, most of which inhabit the National Park Mavrovo. Facing a real threat of extinction, there finally might be hope for preserving and reintroducing this magnificent animal.
The geography of the Balkan Lynx
While there are specimens recorded in Albania, some in Kosovo and Montenegro, and still unconfirmed sights in Northern Greece, the majority of the population of the Balkan Lynx resides in Macedonia, in what is now the National Park Forest of Mavrovo.
Protected by law, and mostly isolated deep within the national park, the Macedonian specimens of the Balkan Lynx still fights for survival.
Ecology of the Balkan lynx in Macedonia, and some facts
The Macedonian wildcat – the Balkan lynx, falls under the Eurasian lynx classification- A third largest predator in Europe after the brown bear and the gray wolf and a strict carnivore, consuming somewhere around one or two kilograms of meat every day, feeding on small prey, mostly mice and rabbits, and wild boar piglets, usually ambushing their prey.
Described by most shepherds it can grow to a length of 4 feet, 3 inches and weight of nearly 80 pounds. A distinct subspecies, the Balkan lynx is generally reddish brown or light gray. Because of its short tail, it largely relies on ear movements for communication. A fun cat indeed.
The national park of Mavrovo, covering 720 square kilometers, is a perfect habitat. Adapted for survival in heavy snow, and hunting small prey, the Balkan lynx is very interesting to observe. It leads a largely solitary life, rarely forming groups. The majority of the specimens are mature, going about mostly by themselves.
An interesting fact is that males are not aggressive towards other males and tend to avoid one another moving in territory up to five kilometers. Mating is once per year, with usually one to four cubs in the litter. A very peculiar animal, with ecology that seems as though perfectly tailored for reproduction, yet the species moves slowly towards extinction.
Preservation of the Macedonian specimens of the Balkan lynx
Numbers being what they are, and many cases of poaching reported over the years, the Balkan lynx in Macedonia needed help. A program, similar to those in Croatia and Slovenia, that will help to reintroduce the animal, preserve the numbers and hopefully, through very careful and selective breading, save this magnificent animal from being extinct.
This challenge has united organizations around the Balkan, and in the year 2006 the program finally started in Macedonia. Kora and Euronatur, two renowned organizations, took the leading role in this project.
Through learning more about their ecology, mapping their habitat and distribution, these organizations provide the necessary backbone – the proper framework on which more actions are to follow.
The story of Marko and Riste
In the evening of Sunday, 14 March 2010, the first Macedonian lynx ever was captured in Mavrovo National Park. The male, named “Marko”, was equipped with a GPS-collar and released subsequently at place. “Marko” will provide important insights into the ecology of the Balkan lynx in Macedonia. The first 10 days of following Marko’s movements have already revealed that the new GPS-GSM technique works well for observing these elusive animals. Two years later, the second Balkan lynx named Riste was radio-tagged as well.
Monitoring via camera traps is well on its way as well, and the program moves closer towards gathering enough knowledge so it can aid in the preservation process.
A national symbol
Despite its slim chances of survival in the past, many organizations are making real effort to preserve this magnificent animal and national symbol of the Republic of Macedonia.
Though hard to spot in the wilderness, as shepherds and hunters claim, it is still one of the most captivating creatures inhabiting the Balkans. We can only hope to one day be able to witness more numbers scattered around Mavrovo’s national park. Till then, good luck spotting the puss.