The lynx coordination enclosure
Captive-bred lynx for the Thuringian Forest
To be able to reintroduce lynx into the Thuringian Forest, we naturally need suitable animals that can be considered for such a reintroduction. The problem: To connect the isolated lynx populations in Central Europe, there are also initiatives in other countries (and federal states) for reintroduction or population support. This currently creates a high demand for lynx, which cannot be met alone by lynx born in the wild (so-called wild-caught lynx). Therefore, field projects increasingly have to rely on lynx born in captivity. To meet the high requirements for housing lynx for reintroduction projects, a large enclosure was built in the wild cat village of Hütscheroda (Wartburgkreis), which is in a natural setting and shielded from public visitor traffic. Here, lynx can be prepared with minimal contact with humans for life in the wild.
The Wild Cat Village Hütscheroda
The Wildcat Village Hütscheroda was founded in 2012 on the southern edge of the Hainich National Park to inform visitors to the Hainich region about the biology and protection of the native wildcat (Felis silvestris). Since 2019, the Wildcat Village has also been dedicated to the protection of the lynx. The Wildcat Village sees itself primarily as an educational institution and tourist attraction in the region, which demonstrates to its 30,000 visitors a year the necessity of conservation measures for the preservation of the two cat species. A modern, interactive exhibition in the so-called Wildcat Barn serves this purpose, where visitors can learn about the biology and protection of wild cats and lynx. The true highlight of the Wildcat Village is the so-called Wildcat Clearing, an extensive open-air area where wildcats can be observed at close quarters in several large, near-natural enclosures. In the summer of 2019, the wildcat clearing was expanded to include a 3,400 m² enclosure for lynxes, which has since been inhabited by a pair of lynxes and temporarily by their cubs. This enclosure is built within a forest area and features a lot of old trees and numerous hiding places.
The lynx coordination enclosure
The coordination enclosure in the wild cat village Hütscheroda is the first of its kind in Europe. The purpose of the approximately 3400 m² enclosure is to prepare lynxes for life in the wild in an extensive, near-natural area. The coordination enclosure takes in lynx that were born in suitable enclosures in European zoos and wildlife parks and transferred to the coordination enclosure after careful selection. Here they are kept for several months with minimal contact with humans and then transferred to suitable field projects for release into the wild.
How many animals can the enclosure accommodate?
The coordination enclosure has an area of about 3400 m² and can be divided into three compartments of about 1000 m² each. In this way, there is space for up to three sibling groups. Siblings of the same litter usually get along well with each other and can therefore be kept together.
How can habituation to humans be prevented?
All lynx that come to Hütscheroda undergo a careful selection process. An important prerequisite for inclusion in a reintroduction project is that the lynxes were born in zoos or wildlife parks with large, near-natural enclosures with little visibility by visitors. Lynx raised in such enclosures can then be transferred to the coordination enclosure at about 8-12 months. This is also the age of separation from the mother in the wild. In the coordination enclosure, the lynx no longer has any contact with visitors. The work of the keepers in and around the enclosure is reduced to an absolute minimum. Habituation to humans is consistently avoided. Before release, each lynx undergoes a behavioral test in which, for example, it must show appropriate flight behavior when approached by a human.
At what age are lynxes released into the wild?
In previous reintroduction projects using enclosure animals, lynxes of very different age classes have been released, both one-year-old animals and lynx that have already spent several years in enclosures.
In the wild, lynxes separate from their mothers at around 10-12 months of age. The one-year-old lynxes then start looking for their own territory and can feed themselves at this age. Therefore, we will mainly release lynx of this age group in the framework of our project.
How do lynxes born in captivity manage to survive in the wild?
The most important prerequisite a captive-born lynx must have for life in the wild is an appropriate shyness towards humans. Lynx living in the wild should not actively approach humans and should react by fleeing if humans get too close.
All lynxes kept in the coordination enclosure are fed game meat. However, no live prey is fed. The young lynxes do not have to learn to hunt, however, because they have an innate hunting instinct. A good example of this is Norik, the lynx who grew up in Hütscheroda. Although Norik has never killed an animal before, he succeeded in capturing a roe deer, a chamois, and a young red deer within a very short time after his release into the wild in the Austrian Kalkalpen National Park.