Lynx monitoring for successful management and communication
Location: Bodenmais – Germany,
Story by: Markus Schwaiger
About 40 adult lynxes live in the Bavarian Forest and they are part of the Bavarian-Bohemian-Austrian population. Due to the area-wide monitoring with camera traps, the number of individuals and their territories are largely known. The data gives insights on the development of the lynx population and is the basis for active management
About 100 independent lynxes live in the border triangle of Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria. Some of them set their territory on the German side of the border in the Bavarian Forest. Markus Schwaiger has followed them for more than ten years now. He has been collecting scientific data in the ‘Bavarian Lynx Project’ and also documents natural and unnatural causes of death. He knows very well that humans are the greatest danger for lynxes: either because they are hit by a car or because they are illegally poached. Between 2012 and 2019, a total of six lynxes were demonstrably killed in the area. In another 25 cases lynxes went missing and so far there is no proof that they have not been killed too.
“I hear a lot of voices complaining about too many lynxes. In fact, the lynx population has been developing slightly positively for a few years. We can track this very well through the data from the camera traps. But the cameras also prove that the distribution area of the lynxes is growing too. Since lynxes are territorial, they will search for their own territory as adults.”
Today we are following Markus Schwaiger as he checks some of the camera traps. With the team of the ‘Bavarian Lynx Project’, he installed them in an area of approximately 2,000 square kilometres and downloads the images about every three to four months. Since every individual has a specific fur pattern, the lynxes can be easily identified on the pictures. At the same time, the team collects further evidence to get insights into their behaviour and reproduction – the collected materials such as hair or faeces are genetically analysed and in winter the team follows their tracks in the snow.
The monitoring data from the Bavarian Forest is sent annually to the German Agency for Nature Conservation and from there to the European Union. With the data, Germany fulfils the legal obligations of the EU but also sets the basis for taking reasonable decisions to manage the lynx population in a sustainable way.
“My colleagues in the Czech Republic and Austria also set up camera traps and as neighbouring countries we regularly exchange ideas. The data from the cross-border monitoring is a very important step towards a joint, transnational protection strategy to maintain a long-term viable Bavarian-Bohemian-Austrian lynx population.”
Monitoring in accordance with EU requirements
The EU Flora Fauna Habitat Directive obligates all member countries to systematically monitor protected species. Each country can decide how to implement the monitoring, but the EU has developed some recommendations to gain scientifically reliable and viable data. The collected data is used to create a report that shows the state of every species involved. The report is published every six years and will be used to decide whether the conservation status of a species has changed.
Monitoring with camera traps
Monitoring with camera traps is used in all parts of the world to detect animal species and individuals living in a certain area. Depending on the species, the camera traps enable viable data about the presence of certain species as well as their behaviour and reproduction cycles to be collected. The cameras are powered by batteries and the pictures need to be downloaded regularly. They are usually installed in a fixed location and triggered by motion and/or heat sensors when animals pass. For species such as the lynx, which can be clearly identified by their individual fur pattern, and which are territorial, the camera traps can also be used to count the number of individuals and observe the development of the population.
In recent years the lynx population in the Bavarian Forest has recovered, although young animals still regularly die in traffic. Thanks to sound monitoring, the number of animals in the Bavarian Forest is largely known and Markus Schwaiger now knows exactly the areas which the animals like to move between. This knowledge was also a gem for the nature photographer Julius Kramer. He set up his high-resolution cameras in strategically good places and the result is impressive: With a picture of wild young lynxes playing in the snow, he received the special recommendation from the 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.