Scaring lynxes away from their kills by wolves

Recently I faced with the next fourth case of scaring lynxes away from their kills by wolves and decided to prepare this post about this curious way of the species interference. This fourth registered such a story was outstandingly rich on events and relatively well photo-documented, therefore, I will begin just with that story.

In the story the main acting persons were Els Lavrysen and Hans Van Loy, a couple of lynx amateurs from Belgium, who faced the case of scaring lynx family away from the roe deer carcass by two wolves in Naliboki Forest (the central-western part of Belarus).

To tell this story I’m sharing a part of their report about the wildlife trip they had in Naliboki Forest, Naust Eco Station, 1-10th February 2018.

They reported:

Wednesday 7

The conditions are perfect today, so Pepijn will do some snow tracking in the area where Vieranika (it is the name of this mother lynx) and two kittens (plus previously one subadult) live. Fresh lynx tracks cross the road. These tracks weren’t here yesterday evening, so it’s unlikely we’ll find better ones!

We leave Pepijn, imagining what it would be like: all alone in the forest, only accompanied by the silence and sounds of this big wilderness. Maybe a meeting with elk or deer, … It would be great to join him or do some snow tracking ourselves one day.

Pepijn is following the tracks in the opposite direction. One moment, Vadim stops the car and asks if someone wants to follow the tracks in the other direction? Yes, of course we want to!

A little bit unprepared (both in equipment and in mind) but excited, we put some bread, cheese and sausage in our backpacks, take some matches in case we get wet and receive some last instructions from Vadim. We agree to meet again at 6 pm. We mark our position in our smartphone and off we go. The phone is our only GPS, but it’s probably best to rely on our own footsteps to get back to the car.

The tracks of Vieranika and the kittens are clearly visible and near the road we see a few small marking places from the mother (rubbing small trees). It seems one of the kittens is more adventurous and regularly splits from the others for short times. But every time, the tracks come together again.

Lynxes don’t always follow the easiest path for people: they walk on ice where we bag through, they crawl through low bushes and jump over canals we can’t jump. But it’s all very enjoyable to see where these lynxes have passed before us. And this track is not that difficult. We use small beaver dams, humps of grass, …

After a while wolf tracks appear from the opposite direction and close to the lynx track. It’s difficult to count them, because they are going back and forth. It’s also quite swampy terrain so it’s difficult to follow the right tracks. But Hans persists and we eventually find the lynx track again.

One moment we are on a small elevation in the terrain. We already heard and saw two raven hanging around for a while. Suddenly Els whispers: “Hans, straight ahead, something is standing there…” One hundred meters in front of us, partly hidden between the birch trees, we see a red-brown back and the base of a bushy tail. It’s not like a deer and it’s certainly not an elk. It takes a few seconds before Els whispers the words we could only dream of: “It’s a wolf…”

The animal lifts up his head and looks around. Wow, what a big wolf with a massive head and thick hair! “There are two!” A few meters to the right another back is visible through the trees. He lifts his head as well. We try to be like a salt pillar, because sometimes they seem to look straight into our eyes/binoculars. We’re looking at wild wolves, this is truly unbelievable. One wolf is carrying and eating a blood-red piece of meat. The ribs are clearly visible. Incredible, we just found a recent kill!

Was it because of a noise we made (Hans was trying to take out his camera as quiet as possible)? Or was it the breeze coming from behind us? But the wolves lift their head again, look in our direction, smell the air and fly.

How many time had passed? Three of four minutes at least. We squeeze each other’s arm and realize  this was a once in a lifetime experience! What a thrill!

At the kill site, we feel like real crime scene investigators: what happened? The tracks of the wolves are clearly visible, but there are also lynx tracks at the carcass. It’s a roe deer, eaten to a great extent. The hind legs and one of the forelegs is still present as well as part of the chest, but the head is nowhere to be found. A few meters from the carcass, we find the place where the roe deer was killed and eaten: a lot of greyish hair, blood on a little spruce and on the ground, remnants from an intestine,… There’s also a resting place nearby with a lot of lynx tracks. Between the place from where we watched the wolves and the kill, the lynx tracks had split. One was going around, the two others stayed together. We suppose the rode deer was killed by Vieranika, while the kittens stayed aside.

We send a message to Vadim. They might want to see this as well. It’s a pity that we couldn’t share this experience with the whole group, but it would have been very difficult to stay unnoticed.

We try to pick up the traces from the lynx family again, but it’s very complicated and Vadim is returning earlier to put a camera trap near the carcass.

We meet again at the car and lead Vadim to the site. First he gives his interpretation of the scene. Pepijn found another place where a lynx had been lying under the dense canopy of a spruce nearby the roe der carcass. According to Vadim this was used by Vieranika as an ambush. Somehow the wolves were led to this place. Perhaps,  they follow the ravens when these scavengers found the carcass.

A pygmy owl starts calling nearby. The camera trap Vadim is installing is not the best one and it seems not to be functioning properly, but Vadim persists to make it work. This case is too interesting to miss a thing! Who would come back tonight? What would happen? We are all highly interested!

…….

Thursday 8

When we arrive next day after lunch there are wolf tracks on the road. Would the carcass still be there? If it has been moved it’s possible that we won’t have any picture… On the way to the camera there’s a wolf track with a little bit of blood aside. Did they take it?

The carcass is gone. But when we check the camera trap there are pictures of lynx! Vieranika returned yesterday, only half an hour after we left. Maybe she was watching us while we were installing the camera…! The kittens showed up one hour later. The last picture was taken three hours after Vieranika’s first visit.

It’s really amazing to see how wolves and lynxes interfere with each other in this vast wilderness….

 

 

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So, in the above-described case from all available sources of information (snowtracking, activity signs of wolves and lynxes at the roe deer carcass, visual observation, camera trapping etc.) we finally learned the following. The mother lynx (we call as Vieranika) noticed the roe deer group in young succession forest, it hid in the ambuscade under the small spruce. Then she was waiting for a roe deer getting closer. After killing it she called for kits, which were waiting about 300 meters away. The lynxes started consuming the roe deer. Ravens discovered them at the kill and began screaming. This attracted wolves. They came and chased away the lynx family from their food. However the lynxes stayed not far away, and when Els and Hans scared the wolves, and we left the place, the lynx family returned to the roe deer carcass and consumed it almost all during one night. The wolves came back the next afternoon and found poor remnants of the kill and they consumed them entirely.

 

During the late 1990s and 2000s  in Naliboki Forest and Paazierre Forest, I faced with three more cases of scaring of lynxes away from their kills by wolves. In the first case, mother lynx with three kits just started eating roe deer, but a pack of 6 wolves chased the lynxes on birch trees; the wolves consumed the kill entirely; none of the lynxes was killed; wolves stayed around the birch trees, where the lynx family was sitting. This first case was reconstructed following recent signs left by all those animals on the snow cover. Perhaps, in this case, the cry of the victim roe deer was heard by the wolves and they came to the place and tackled the kill.

In the second and third cases,  young red deer were killed by a lynx, but they were mostly consumed by a pack of wolves. Nevertheless, when the wolves were absent at the red deer remnants, the lynx fed there too. In these two cases, it looks like again ravens discovered the place with the red deer carcass and their callings attracted the wolves.

From all these cases I assume that scaring lynxes away from their kills by wolves happens not rarely, and this phenomenon is an essential part of on-going interference between wolves and lynxes in Belarus.

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