Mother lynx, having own kitten, has adopted another kitten, which mother has died

Coauthor: Irina Rotenko

In Naliboki Forest, the central-western part of Belarus we (Naust Eco Station and Wild Naliboki) have documented by camera-traps that a mother lynx, having own kitten, has adopted another kitten, which mother has died. Actually, the story was as following.

These two mother lynxes lived at the distance about 4-6 km between their main areas, which  they inhabited. Sometimes, they were registered at the shorter distance of about 2 km only. In the late November 2019 each mother had a male kitten. We called one mother as Pliamistaja, another as Aurelia, and they were easily recognizable with their distinctive spot patterns. The male kitten of Pliamistaja was markedly bigger than one of Aurelja.

Mother lynx Pliamistaja with her male kitten in the late November 2019.

In the first half of December 2019 Pliamistaja died, and her kitten appeared alone. A month or even a bit longer this male kitten roamed in the area of about 2 square km, where his mother died. To survive the lone kitten caught rodents and scavenged for carrion from kills of the local wolf pack. Actually the pack was not a strong one and consisted of two wolves and two not big wolf-dog hybrids.

wolf pack wolf-dog hybrids
The wolf-hybrid pack (two wolves and two not big hybrids) in the area, where Pliamistaja with kitten lived.

In the late January 2020 the kitten of Pliamistaja began walking in the main housing area of Aurelja. The housing area has a two hectares of dense treefall in the center. At first, the kitten of Pliamistaja stayed 5-7 days in the close proximity to the treefall, then it entered the treefall and was registered there either more or less the same time nearby Aurelja and her kitten by different cameras or together with Aurelja’s kitten by the same camera. Also, in February on muddy forestry roads or on little snow in the housing area of Aurelja we registered three trail tracks of lynxes that suggested Aurelja with two kittens walked altogether.

lynx kitten
Aurelja’s own kitten (below on the left) and the adopted kitten (on the right) in the treefall in Aurelja’s housing area.
lynx kittens in treefall

Since both own kitten and (or) adopted kitten stayed with Aurelja. Not everything was peaceful in their life.  Bigger adopted kitten suppressed smaller kitten of Aurelja. For several times we documented that Aurelja’s kitten roamed alone, while at the same time  Aurelja was followed by the adopted kitten. In the most of registrations just the adopted kitten was following Aurelja. When Aurelja was walking alone the trail of her own kitten and was tailed after by the adopted kitten it guarded against her to approach sometimes.

lynx with a kitten
Aurelja was walking alone the trail of her own kitten and was tailed after by the adopted kitten it guarded against her to approach.
lynx kitten Naust Eco Station
The adopted kitten is waiting, when Aurelja moves away enough.
Naust Eco Station
Aurelja’s kitten was the same spot about 10 hours before.
Aurelja with one of the kittens.

8 thoughts on “Mother lynx, having own kitten, has adopted another kitten, which mother has died”

  1. Very interesting observations, but it would be better to give more evidence, as more records of both juvenils with Aurelia together

    1. I did not receive any reply, so I think, you have no direct evidence, as maybe a photo of Aurelia with both young, all together. Thanks, Eva Gregorova

    2. Sorry, I was in the wild those days. If you read with enough attention you could notice that the two kittens (the own Aurelja’s one and adopted one) are slightly aggressive to each other, and perhaps therefore Aurelja walks mainly with the bigger adopted one, sometimes with own smaller one only. Most of the time another kitten anyway follow two at some distance (as you see that in the example with the tree across the river). Also on sandy or muddy roads in the Aurelja housing area we have registered the whole three family track trails for three times and that suggested a lot that they were altogether. Moreover, we took photos of two kittens nearby in the Aurelja’s housing treefall. Additionally another more or less simultaneous photos of being all the three of them nearby taken by different cameras say the same that the Pliamistaja’s kitten was adopted by Aurelja, but not all is fully peaceful between them. I leave the computer for the next 3-5 days again going to the wild so please keep patience if you have not got my reply immediately.

      1. Thank you very much for your reply, which I appreciate. I was reading it carefully, aggressive behaviour was the first thing which had to be noticed. But I´m still not fully convinced that orphaned kitten was really adopted with female. It may also be the other way around – that the orphan had adopted an inexperienced young breeding female with a younger kitten than himself.
        My interest in this case is therefore so great, because in the past, cca 20 years ago, I dealt with a similar event, but in captive conditions of our rehabilitation station in the zoo. Orphaned juvenil male, named Corin, showed the great interest in the breeding female with her male cub named Titus in the neighboring cage, so I tried to put them together, of course, gradually. Corin was initially very intrusive and accommodating; the female also marked him in the kennel with urine and her behaviour was friendly and seems to be impartial. But then kittens fighted together and Titus (bigger and stronger) had tored Corin´s ear. Then it seems that the female stood on the side of her cub Titus and kittens stopped to contact one another. On another intrusive attempt of Corin to suck her milk, she growled clearly at him and he was immediately up on the mesh. He made no further attempts to any contact and wanted to escape out of their cage. When I took him up in arms and carried him to his cage, he started biting his paws under the big stress. So I haven’t tried it anymore, due to limited possibilities of escape in such cases at captive animals.
        Anyway, I highly appreciate and admire your work with lynx, I was reading your e-book in one breath, because your methods of non-invasive monitoring of these beautiful animals are very close to me. And I like your explanations of social or other behaviour very much.
        I am looking forward to your next discoveries in this field of science, because it is science although the evidence is not every time clearly visible to the academic community. Who loves lynx, must understands it even without precise scientifically based facts. My academic lynx friends and colleagues sometimes often remind me that my view of science is different, too practical and empiric. And I said, that I am a breeder first of all. So, excuse me please, my dubiousness in some questions.
        Best wishes,
        Eva

      2. Attachment to comments

        št 5. 3. 2020 o 8:30 Zoology by Vadim Sidorovich napísal(a):

        > Vadim Sidorovich commented: “Sorry, I was in the wild those days. If you > read with enough attention you could notice that the two kittens (the own > Aurelja’s one and adopted one) are slightly aggressive to each other, and > perhaps therefore Aurelja walks mainly with the bigger adopted ” >

  2. Hello Vadim, hello Irina Very interesting. Lynx is possibly more social than otherwise described. One of the wolf-dog-hybrids you have photographed looks mangy.

    This badly mangy one was found recently in Lower Saxony, killed by road accident. Best regards Udo

    >

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