What does it mean to have the lynx disappear from our forests again?
Text and photos: Petra Draškovič Pelc, PhD
What does it mean to have the lynx disappear from our forests again? My guess is we don’t think about it a lot. Most of us have probably never seen this mysterious cat with spots on its fur and tufts on the tips of its ears. We don’t know what it's like to have one of them cross your path; we don’t read about them in fairy tales; the media don't make them out to be vicious wild beasts; from time to time, when we look angry, somebody will perhaps tell us that we're “mad as a lynx”. But do we actually know them? Know how they live? And where?
It’s practically impossible to encounter a lynx. Even seeing their paw prints happens extremely rarely: mostly, their whereabouts are only revealed by snow. According to experts participating in the LIFE Lynx project who spent the better part of last year checking recordings from automatic cameras set up in a large part of Slovenia in order to monitor different lynx specimens, we have around 19 adult lynx living in our country. However, their vitality is, unfortunately, declining. Pretty soon, this wonderful cat could disappear from our forests and we would no longer have the opportunity to see one. This is exactly what happened in 1908, when the last Slovenian lynx was shot. In 1973, 6 specimens were settled into the region of Kočevje. Today, their destiny and their survival strongly depend on how ready we are to cohabit with big beasts, which sometimes requires special measures.
During all of my wanderings in the Kočevje region, I only got lucky once: since then, I’ve been convinced I was born under a lucky star. During our walk, Stane and I crossed paths with a female lynx and her cub. Before that, the mother was carefully sitting on a tree stump and probably following every movement in the forest. The moment we saw her, she hid behind young beech trees. As we approached for a moment, we saw the cub resting on some leaves next to the stump. We had a lot of equipment and unfortunately didn't have any space for a camera. I didn't want to approach the cub with my phone either; I knew that a shot like that could only serve for documentary purposes, and to achieve that, I could also take it from afar, without disturbing the cub.
As we carefully retreated, it hit us that we were actually witnessing a pretty rare sight in nature. It was a special blessing. Merely a glimpse of such a rare occurrence is enough to make you forget all the winter hours and days we spent walking in the middle of nowhere in order to learn something about the lynx. Thus far, we only thought of lynx as forest ghosts: one could only feel its presence. At times, it was also possible to sense its gaze, but we’d never seen one before. Sometimes, as if to reward you, it left a paw print in the snow or rare excrement that lynx are usually careful to bury, just like cats. The same goes for its prey. It’s these little “slivers of luck” that make preserving these charismatic animals worthwhile. In their absence, deer would be less resilient and healthy, and the rhythm of the forest would change. There’d be no more magic running through our minds as we walk through such forests; there’d be no more “presence of mind”, no more alertness, as we wander through forests where big beasts live. Of course, there’s nothing tangible about it: it’s not going to make us rich. But it will enrich our internal, spiritual world, and make it more valuable. Does this still count for anything nowadays?
These days, my mind keeps on circling back to this special encounter. I am reliving it through a different perspective: accompanied by academics participating in an art colony, we talk about the lynx as we try to get to know it better. With the help of lectures and field hikes held by members of the LIFE Lynx project, participants who have never seen a lynx out in the wild can better picture them. And then, it’s time to create an artistic vision of one’s own lynx. Brush strokes paint a lynx, pieces of paper fly around, and the room is overwhelmed by the pleasant smell of turpentine. Sometimes, the image created is extremely realistic, or maybe we can only sense it. Other times, there are 6 or more lynx, telling their story in a surrealist manner. Every one of them is different, and they are all created based on what the artists “see”, experience and feel about the lynx, in the safe environment provided by Brigita Požegar Mulej, an artist from Lancovo.
One place that the lynx will definitely never leave are these canvases, graphics, and photos. But it has also found a permanent place of residence in the hearts of all these artists who have maybe never seen lynx as being a part of their creative opus before. It will also remain in the minds of the visitors of our exhibition. If they speak to others about this creative art colony, the lynx will also reach the minds of their families and friends. Of course, this is hardly enough for it to stay in our forests. There is so much more to it than that. However, by moving 10 Romanian and Slovakian lynx to Slovenia until 2024, which is the plan of the LIFE Lynx project, keeping them in our forests will definitely become much more probable. But we still have a lot to contribute to it ourselves, which can also be achieved through such artistic campaigns tailored to raise awareness. First, we have to start thinking about lynx and actually caring about them. Once we change our approach, we’ll become much more sensitive towards nature. Our world will be richer and happier if we adopt decisions that will also benefit wildlife. Maybe we’re not aware of it enough, but a healthy environment for the lynx is also healthy for us and our children. By protecting the lynx as an important species, we also protect other animals and, after all, create better, healthier living conditions for the humankind. Next time you walk in the forest, try imagining just how much more interesting your walk would be in the presence of this charismatic little cat. And if you have difficulties imagining it, ask your children about it!
dr. Petra Draškovič Pelc
Born in the Slovene Štajerska, she chose to live in Kočevje and the mere thought of adventures in the wild nature of Alaska gets her heart racing like a wild animal. She enjoys silence, peace and the beauty of the light-flooded wilds of all the untouched corners of the world, as well as the beauty of her local Kočevje-area and Slovenia. She is an enthusiastic traveler, a curious admirer of nature, a tourist guide, author of countless articles in Slovenia as well as abroad and a doctor in biomedical science, who found her calling in (natural scientific) photography. Throughout her work with ARS NATURAE she tries to express love towards nature and its preservation.