They are among the Balkans’ most reclusive residents. That's why environmentalists in Macedonia and Albania and their allies in Western Europe are highlighting recently captured images of a lynx called Deki to generate support for protection of the critically endangered species.
During the first week of February 2018, the Macedonian Ecological Society – MES released before-and-after photos of Deki, shot using camera traps in Mavrovo National Park. The first photo from 2013 shows him as an eight-month-old cub trailing his mother, while the second shows him as a fully grown individual. In 2015, MES used a GPS collar to track his movements and discovered that Deki “owns” far greater territory than the neighboring lynxes, covering a range of 888 square kilometers (343 square miles).
There are only an estimated few dozen individual lynx in the wild. For 12 years now, the felines have been the focus of the Balkan Lynx Recovery Program, an effort made up of activists on both sides of the Macedonia-Albania border. The organizations directly involved have been using the materials produced during field research to raise awareness of the need to expand protections in existing national parks, as well as add new ones in order to connect the areas where the Balkan lynx lives.
Cypriot nature photographer Silvio Rusmigo documented the process of setting up the cameras and box traps in Macedonia. Scientists use the box traps to temporarily capture the animals in order to study and tag them with GPS radio collars. In an article relating the experience, Rusmigo wrote about the difficulty of encountering lynx:
Deforestation is one of the main threats to the area’s wildlife; one that is swiftly noticed as one arrives on the south-west Balkan Mountains. Logging activities carried out on horseback, owing to the inaccessibility of these mountains, leave the sight of wounded trees of which only fragments can be transported down. As evident as the thinning of the forest, is the despair outlined on the faces of those working hard for the cat’s protection. Joining the 2017 spring fieldwork and listening to their stories, the conservationists’ disappointment far surpasses that caused by employing a whole team to drive for hours and hike up to a remote location following the trigger of a box trap, only to find that it was activated by a passing owl. The agony of the confused owl may vanish after its release; but for the Balkan Lynx team, the let-down brought about by years of efforts on a road filled with elements that hinder their fruition, such as the seizing of a box-trap which took place during my short stay, lingers on and makes one wonder of their persistence to carry on.
During 2017, the Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania – PPNEA, which is part of the Balkan Lynx Recovery Program, released camera trap photos of lynx from Nikaj-Merturi regional nature park in northeastern Albania, which borders Kosovo. The brown bear, the wild boar, the roe deer and the red fox also live in the area, which is connected to Valbona National Park. Activists had been protesting to prevent construction of hydro-power plants there that they fear would destroy the ecosystem.
Most of the lynx population in Macedonia has been documented in Mavrovo National Park. In 2010 the former Macedonian government initiated a major hydro-power project in the area; however, a successful advocacy campaign lead by the NGO Eko-svest managed to prove the negative environmental impact to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which canceled the loan, effectively terminating the project.
In addition, MES had been publishing photos of lynx appearences outside of the Mavrovo National Park. In June 2017, their releases showed a lair with a small cub near Kichevo, in the area of Ilinska Mountain. In November 2017, they also published night photos of a mother and a cub from the unprotected mountain of Jablanica, which borders a national park on the Albanian side. Macedonian Ecological Society representative Dime Melovski said in response that it's a positive sign that lynx reproduction is taking place outside of the core Mavrovo National Park area.
Another Macedonian NGO, Ploshtad Sloboda, released an online documentary to advocate granting national park status to Shar Planina, a mountain range that runs through Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania, in order to grant the lynx protection. This film is in Macedonian, but also uses English subtitles:
The following map, compiled by Global Voices team, illustrates how areas where lynx have been photographed are not connected:
Besides loss of habitat, wildlife in the Balkans had been subject to poaching, in particular due to political corruption that allowed local strongmen to indulge in proving their “macho” attitudes with impunity. Recently in Macedonia, hunters who bragged on Facebook about killing endangered species, such as chamois, and uploaded photos were heavily criticized, but there's no public record of any follow-up by police on their claims.
In December 2017, the 37th Standing Committee meeting of the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats accepted an initiative by the Albanian Ministry for Tourism and Environment to include the Balkan lynx (Lynx lynx balcanicus) in Appendix II of the convention. This will serve as basis for expanding international efforts to save the species, while activists also interpreted it as form of recognition of their efforts.
— Eko-svest (@Eko_svest) December 5, 2017