Coauthor Irina Rotenko
During the warm season of 2021 in Naliboki Forest we investigated post-denning life of four families of Eurasian lynxes. Doing that, we applied about sixty camera traps. Among the mother lynxes there were three model females (Aurelija, Jurchykha and Darota), which we traced for several years before, and one newly appeared mother lynx. The number of kittens varied from one to three: 1 (the new mother), 2 (Jurchykha and Aurelija) and 3 (Darota).
A post-denning phase in raising of kittens begins when kittens start walking with the mother. In the traced families that happened in the end of July and the beginning of August. The earliest registration of a mother with kittens following her was gained on 2oth July in Darota’s case.
The most spectacular footage was put together in two videos: the first one about Darota’s family with three kittens and the second one about Jurchykha and her two kittens. Here it is worthwhile to notice that these two videos were made for YouTube, and so they include only some our video-materials of 2021 that may be interesting for a high amateurship of wildlife.
Below we summarized our materials on the question. The materials were gained both the warm season 2021 and before.
Behaviour of a mother lynx at kittens predominantly consisted of playing with kittens (44% of the time, n=662 video and photo registrations), watching around from a spot of kittens’ stay (15%), joint sleeping (19%) and grooming kittens (13%). About 3% of the time a mother lynx was grooming herself. Interestingly, that mother lynxes were absent of the spots of kittens’ stay so little time around 6% only.
Respectively, a question arises. How is a mother lynx able to feed kittens, because she is free from kittens so little time that is seemingly insufficient for foraging enough? Here it is worthwhile to notice that we rarely registered that a mother lynx was bringing some food to her kittens, while she was coming back to a kittens’ refuge. At the same time, an adult male lynx (possible father) was ordinarily present in the homesites of each family that was traced by us.
The above features indirectly suggests that even in the warm season an adult male perhaps frequently forages a family, which stays in his home range.
Additionally to the numerous video-registrations of an adult male nearby a family, we found that big footprints of adult males were ordinarily present in family homesites at shelters, playgrounds and remains of kills. It is plausible that an adult male brings food in a close proximity to a family, calls and leaves food there. In winter we already have one well-documented situation, when an adult male lynx hunted four roe deer for a family, and the family fed on the kills.
At the same time there is no doubt that a mother lynx hunts as well, but seemingly it is not the only food resource for feeding of kittens.
In this aspect it is worthwhile to notice that, when a mother lynx killed something more or less big such as a roe deer, she tends to drive kittens to the kill. Concerning bringing of food by a mother lynx to a spot, where kittens stay, only small prey were usually brought by the mother.
When a mother lynx is watching around from a spot of kittens’ stay, kittens are either quiet (sleeping, grooming) – 72% of the time, or playing – 28%. When a mother lynx is absent at kittens (perhaps, she went for hunting), kittens are predominantly quiet – 91% of the time.
In Naliboki Forest we investigated a lot the habitats which were frequently used by mother lynxes during post-denning raising of kittens. The results could be listed by many habitat combinations. However, when we carefully analyse that huge accumulated information on lynx family habitat usage, it becomes evident one main feature that is present in all of them without any exceptions. It looks like in Naliboki Forest a lynx family prefers a combination of the following three environmental components such as old forest with some fallen trees, treefall spots and opening edges. That opening in the most of cases was either drained lands with grassy field or abandoned peatery. Also, such an opening may be an agriculture field or an open river valley. As to an old forest, all types of them were liked by lynx families. Anyway, we would like to say that in Naliboki Forest lynx families prefer spruce-deciduous mixed one with oaks in the tree stand. Broadleaved deciduous old forest was slightly less engaged by lynx families, and old coniferous stands were inhabited markedly less often than other two mentioned ones.
Despite of getting more and more information on lynx family life, it appear feeling that there are so much still unknown on the question. The two following documented situations from lynx family life are good examples on this aspect.
In the early January 2020 one model mother lynx (we call her Aurelja) having one own kitten has adopted a kitten of another (neighboring) mother lynx after her dearth. The kitten, which lost the mother, roamed alone about 20 days gradually approaching the house area of Aurelja. Finally, we photo-documented both kittens together with Aurelja in the thicket, where Aurelja stayed frequently and when they were crossing a canal by a fallen tree.
Another example is even more surprising you may see on the second video. On 18th August 2021 we video-documented playing of two kittens of one model mother lynx (Jurchykha). After the family get out of the frame of the camera trap, the same minute another unknow small kitten appeared, which was not registered with the family neither before nor after the event. This small kitten in the same position was 20% as smaller than the smaller kitten of Jurchykha. There is no a good idea what that was. The only rough guess may be said that this small kitten could be one of Jurchykha’s former daughter. This relative family could appear nearby that moment, and the small kitten tried to approach the playing family.