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There’s Hope for Europe’s Rarest Cat

Jun 16, 2017 09:01 PM EDT
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The Balkan lynx, Europe's rarest cat, is scrambling for survival. With less than 50 known surviving cats in the mountains of the Western Balkans, the species gets closer and closer to extinction with each passing year.

But they're not gone just yet. According to a report from New Scientist, researchers in Macedonia were able to snap a photo of a wild Balkan lynx kitten, the first newborn that's been spotted in about 10 years. The picture - posted on EuroNatur's Facebook - was taken in a second location, the Mavrovo National Park on the border of Macedonia and Albania, suggesting that this is the site of another healthy reproducing population.

The team of researchers from EuroNatur and Macedonian Ecological Society (MES) attached a GPS collar on a Balkan lynx female named Maya back in February, which eventually led them to this cub. Maya was reportedly nearby when the team discovered the little one.

"It is a great thing to be able to see this baby lynx, hale and hearty," MES team member Panajot Chorovski, who photographed the cub, told EarthTouch News.

John Durrus Linnell of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research stressed that the cub sighting is a positive sign for the species, proving that the dwindling population is still reproducing.

"When this project started almost 10 years ago there was no real proof that the population even existed," Linnell explained. "Since then, the team have collected hundreds of camera trap pictures of lynx in both Macedonia and Albania, including evidence of reproduction."

Despite the positive reception to its birth, this kitten is already facing remarkable challenges. According to EuroNatur's Mareike Brix, only 25 percent of all Balkan lynx kittens are able to reach adulthood.

Threats to their lives include habitat loss, illegal hunting and farmers who kill them in revenge for attacking their farm or domestic animals. Disease, malnourishment and road accidents are also potential dangers to the kitten's life. Overhunting of the species' prey like rabbits, roe deer and chamois indirectly affects their odds of survival as well.

Experts believe its important to focus protection efforts on Mavrovo National Park, which is now the only place known to host reproducing Balkan lynxes. After all, this area is not only home to these beautiful cats, but also bears, wolves and other wildlife.

"There is a long way to go before the future of these landscapes and their biodiversity are secure," Linnell said. "But images like these remind us that as long as there is life, there is hope - and that is what keeps conservationists' motivation up."

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