Reading literature and talking with wolf and lynx researchers, it becomes evident that interference between the two species is actually poorly studied. Some mammalogists tend to assume that wolves suppress the lynx population. Some even suggest details of the aggressive behaviour of wolves towards lynxes: strong wolf packs attack lynx family groups and kill kits during lynx mating season when the kits stay alone or disperse. Seemingly, such stories are only speculative beliefs and ideas.
During vast amounts of time in the wild and a lot of field studies on wolves and lynxes in Belarus only lynxes killed by lynxes (males killed by other males and kits killed by males) were found. We never found any lynx (kits or adult) killed by wolves.
In contrast, we found several wolf pups of various age and pregnant wolves killed by lynx:
- 8 wolf pups of 2-11 months old and 2 heavily pregnant female wolves that were killed by lynxes (1997-2015, Naliboki Forest and Paazierre Forest);
- one more pregnant female wolf was killed by either lynx or wolf (more likely to say that lynx, Naliboki Forest, May 2017);
- at least, two wolf litters up two one month old were killed by lynxes (Naliboki Forest, April-May, 2016 and 2017),
- two more litters – very plausible;
- one wolf litter of 2-3 months old and their small mother were very plausibly killed by lynx (Naliboki Forest, June-July 2016);
- adult male wolf plausibly died being wounded after a fight with a male lynx (Naliboki Forest, April 2017).
My point of view is clear: at least, in Belarus, lynxes, first of all, adult males suppress wolf reproduction, by frequently killing of pups and pregnant females. This, in turn, affects the wolf population dynamic, sometimes, quite heavily. Nowadays, I and my collaborators from Wild Naliboki have enough proofs to confirm that.
Below you will find some photo-material on the interference between wolves and lynxes in Nalibiki Forest in Belarus suggesting the leading role of lynxes in the interspecific interference.
Wolf parents at burrow-den with pups inside and the visit of male lynx into the den. Afterwards, the wolf couple has lost the pups. There is snow on the photos with lynx, as it was snowing in the morning of that day in May.
Encounter and fight between an adult male lynx and an adult male wolf. The fight took place at an important marking point and grooming place of the male lynx on an abandoned forest road. The lynx won and plausibly the wolf died afterwards from his wounds.
Lynx visits to the active wolf burrow-den.
An example of wolf response to lynx odour. A pack of four wolves approaching a dead tree, where female and male lynxes had marked previously by urinating. Two of the pack members cautiously inspected the tree with their ears flat, a clear sign of fear and/or subordination.
Many people find it hard to believe that lynxes can kill healthy wolves. Indeed, even a large adult male lynx would expose itself to serious risk of being killed if it tried to fight with a wolf pack. In fact, a lynx will never attack a wolf pack.
However, wolves are not always in packs. They live in packs in the cold season (from late september untill mid-april) and even then many wolves walk around alone. In the warm season (from mid-april untill late September) wolves walking alone are more common then wolves living in small groups.
Just before denning and 10-20 days after parturition the parent wolves are alone most of the time: the mother is at the den, the father forages. Female wolves in the last decades of pregnancy are clumsy, and when their males are foraging they are very vulnerable.
The majority of yearlings that are chased away from the new denning site by their parents walk alone, even if there are several of them.
Pups of the year are another category of vulnerable wolves. They stay alone from the age of 15-20 days until they start to move with the parents (i.e. from mid-May until mid-September). During these months wolf pups can easily be killed by lynxes.
Moreover, we got convinced that an adult lynx – especially a big male – can win a fight from any lone wolf. We photo-documented a fight between a not very big and quite old male lynx (older than 8 years) and a (not small) adult male wolf. The lynx threw the wolf on its back, attacking it’s belly. Obviously the lynx won the fight and most likely the wolf died from his injuries. Before the fight we photographed this easily recognizable wolf frequently, a few hours after the fight the clearly wounded wolf was photographed one more last time.
So, by near consideration lynxes have plenty of opportunities to kill wolves.