The presence of lynx in France regions is rare and watched. It is not the sign of the appearance of a new species but of its return after an disappearance of several decades. On the night of April 13, an animal was fixed by the lens of a camera trap of the French Office for Biodiversity. The prefecture waited until Wednesday, May 17 to announce the news, preferring to wait for the opinion of experts, reports France 3 Grand Est. "This new presence outside the mountain ranges that historically host the species is the subject of a specific monitoring by photo trapping," informs the prefecture of Haute-Marne.
Several lynx have been reported in recent months. At the end of December 2022, a lynx was recognized in Burgundy, bringing to four the number of lynx observed in Saône-et-Loire in 2022. Then hunters found themselves facing a lynx during a beating in the Lyon region in January 2023. His observation at this place was "a first in a very long time", according to the technical coordinator of the Departmental Federation of Hunters of the Rhône interviewed by Ouest France.
A long-term task
In Haute-Marne, this is the second time that a lynx has been identified, after the immortalization of a specimen by the camera trap of a hunter in December 2019. Following this detection, "we did a camera installation campaign, to find out if the animal was present erratically or durably," says Marie-Laure Schwoerer, member of the French Office of Biodiversity, leader of the wolf-lynx network for the Grand Est. "We have not found any other evidence of lynx passage for three years and have concluded that its presence was temporary. Then last April, in an area tracked specifically for wolves, colleagues saw a lynx taking pictures, while they expected to see wolves. Population monitoring is a long-term task, involving a whole network of field observers, supported by self-triggering cameras. The confirmation of signs over time makes it possible to distinguish between occasional and regular presence. "We really work by consolidating indices over time", especially for the lynx, whose "monitoring is complicated because its presence is diluted, there are few individuals per zone".
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According to the prefecture of Haute-Marne, the presence of a lynx "testifies to the dynamics of dispersion of the species, probably from the Jura massif which is the heart of the French lynx population". "On is in a phase of progressive colonization of lynx around Dijon, to the south of Haute-Marne," says Marie-Laure Schwoerer, especially since a first case of reproduction was detected in Côte-d'Or last year, a sure sign of an installation of the species. "Youngpeople emancipate themselves every year, it grows towards the West, in Côte-d'Or and Saône-et-Loire too, since 2018". "In any species there is a natural tendency to conquer territory. Young people who become adults are looking for available territory," says Gilles Moyne, co-founder of the Athenas Centre for the Protection of Wildlife.
The reappearance of the lynx in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and the Grand Est is a consequence of the return of the lynx in the Jura forty years ago, after its reintroduction in Switzerland. The species had been extirpated from France for a century. The largest wild cat in Europe, classified on the red list of threatened species in France, benefits from a first national protection plan launched in spring 2022.
"A discreet and stealthy reappearance"
For Gilles Moyne, his return to places like Haute-Marne "will have been very long in coming". After forty years of confinement in the mountains of the Grand Est, the animal finally conquers new territories. But "these small signs of improvement should not make us forget that it is a very threatened space". These two main causes of death are road collisions and poaching. A study published on February 13, 2023 in the journal Frontiers in conservation science also shows that the species could disappear within thirty years because of inbreeding: there are only 150 individuals in France, whose movements are limited by the absence of natural corridors.
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The lynx lives only in forest areas. Little by little it is going into new forest areas, for that it needs corridors." If the lynx has returned to these regions, it is because it has found "a fairly dense and continuous forest cover". It also needs "prey in sufficient quantities, such as deer, foxes or hares," says Gilles Moyne. This animal biodiversity is favoured by plant diversity. The trend, however, would be towards the industrialization of forestry operations, in which a single tree species is planted on hundreds of hectares, he laments.
Like bears and wolves, lynx are a large predator. The spread of the species in France could therefore create the same type of controversy between breeders and wildlife defenders. But the lynx made a "discreet and stealthy reappearance, which avoided confrontation with the world of breeders," notes Gilles Moyne. In addition, the damage done to farms is less. However, the question of the coexistence of breeders and predators also arises. According to the founder of the Athenas Center, relearning cohabitation will be beneficial in the long term, because each predator has an ecosystem role to play, once a relative balance has been found. They would help to reduce nuisances or pathologies that are embarrassing for human action. Foresters are pleased, for example, that the lynx disperses herds of roe deer, chamois or deer, which concentrated in the same places eat all the buds and hinder forest regeneration operations. Researchers have also shown that lynx can be a predator of young wolves.