The Balkan lynx is the rarest of the wild cats. Predators, who make their home in the mountains of the Western Balkans, figure prominently in the folklore of Albania and Macedonia, and sadly these days they appear to be little more than mythical creatures.
This critically endangered feline subspecies (Lynx lynx balcanicus) there are between 40 and 70 individuals in the wild in various Balkan nations, although in the 1970s some 280 lynxes still roamed the mountains and alpine forests of Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo.
For years, a team of Macedonian scientists have done their best to bring endemic bobcats from the brink of extinction with a measure of success. The reasons for the disappearance of the animals in their mountainous terrain have included the usual causes: poaching, deforestation and loss of habitat.
As recently as 2015, a baby lynx was killed by a hunter in the Munella mountain forest in Albania, sparking outrage in the country. In January this year, a man in Kosovo was arrested for killing a lynx the previous month. He boasted of death in a Facebook post.
Locals in Albania once thought that looking into the eyes of a lynx would make them go blind. There is little danger of that happening because sightings of these endangered felines are so rare. They are so rare, in fact, that the mere sighting of a live lynx in the wild can make news. Although a few dozen bobcats can still roam Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania, camera traps in Kosovo's Bjeshket e Nemuna National Park have so far captured images of only two in the country.
A United Nations-led study was recently conducted on the status of the Shar Mountain wildlife in Macedonia, which some Balkan bobcats also call home, as plans are underway to intensify conservation efforts in the area. "[Illegal poaching, prey decline, landscape degradation and construction pose a serious threat to the largest cat in the region," the UN notes.
"Establishing an integrated protection of nature and guaranteeing a favorable state of conservation of species and their natural habitats is a priority objective," explains Biljana Zefic, former director of the Environment Administration of the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning of the Balkan nation.
Improved conservation efforts will be key to ensuring that the beleaguered cats can endure tooth and nail in their habitats, along with several other endangered species in the area's forests. So will the rigorous prosecution of poachers.