Nature Conservation & Lynx

Why is the lynx being reintroduced to Thuringia?

Why should the lynx return to Germany, and why do we need it? Questions like these come up again and again when it comes to the return of the lynx to Germany. What many people don’t know, however, is that the lynx historically belongs to the nature of Germany and is not an exotic or invasive species. Germany was a lynx country because the wild cats once roamed through almost all native forests, including the Thuringian Forest.

By the way, the Thuringian Forest was one of the last areas in Germany where lynx still existed. It was not until 1843 that the last animal was shot in Thuringia. At that time, the lynx was already extinct in large parts of Germany.

Due to intense hunting, the lynx was considered extinct in Germany and the whole of Western Europe for more than 100 years. Since the 1970s, the species has returned to some regions thanks to active reintroductions.

The role of the lynx in the forest ecosystem

As a large predator or so-called top predator, the lynx is at the top of the food chain and plays an important role in the forest ecosystem and for biodiversity. In some areas, a positive effect of the lynx on the natural regeneration of the forest could be observed, because deer like to eat the shoots of young trees. If there are too high densities of hoofed game, especially too many deer, it is difficult for the forest to regenerate on its own. The lynx, therefore, helps to keep the entire forest ecosystem in a healthy natural balance. 

Germany has a legal obligation to protect the lynx

The lynx is considered a “strictly protected species” according to §7 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act.

In addition, unlike the wolf, the lynx is covered by the German Hunting Act but under a year-round closed season. It may not, therefore, be hunted. On the contrary, there is a so-called “Hegeverpflichtung” for the lynx: hunters and hunting associations as registered and recognized nature conservation associations have a formal responsibility to preserve the lynx in the wild.

At the EU level, the lynx is rated as a strictly protected species, listed in Annex 2 and 4 of the so-called Flora-Fauna-Habitat (FFH) Directive. Through this directive, Germany is legally obliged to protect the lynx and the habitat suitable for it. Even though there are lynx populations again in Germany thanks to reintroduction projects in the Bavarian Forest, the Harz Mountains and the Palatinate Forest, even decades after the first reintroductions, lynx still occur in isolated populations, isolated from each other, and considered in terms of the potentially suitable area, only in small numbers. The conservation status of the lynx in Germany is, therefore, currently assessed as “unfavorable-poor.”

This assessment is also reflected in Germany’s Red List, which lists the lynx as “threatened with extinction.”

Isolation leads to loss of genetic diversity

The smaller and more isolated a population is, the greater the risk of genetic impoverishment. In the long term, this can lead to reduced fertility and increased susceptibility to disease. Genetic impoverishment is, therefore, a very serious problem that can greatly affect a population’s chances of survival.

The core objective of lynx conservation in Europe is, therefore, the connection of so far isolated occurrences and, thus, a genetic exchange between different sub-populations. In the heavily human-dominated landscape of Germany and Western Europe, habitat for the lynx is by no means available everywhere but mainly where large contiguous forest areas have been preserved. The aim is to enable lynx to return to suitable forest areas and, where necessary, link them via migration corridors. In the long term, a network is created through which the subpopulations are connected and genetic exchange can take place (scientifically: “metapopulation concept”). The connection of habitats not only benefits the lynx but also other animal species threatened by genetic impoverishment, such as the red deer.

The Thuringian Forest was identified as a particularly important node in this network, located between the lynx populations in the Bavarian Forest and the Harz Mountains.

Further so-called stepping stone populations are to be established in Saxony and Baden-Württemberg.