A Tough Start for the Canada Lynx Project
The following story is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write, but I refuse to believe that the heartbreak of the last several months has been without purpose. Like all journeys, we must start at the beginning. What follows is the story of how Canada lynx kittens turned a wildlife center upside down and changed the lives of their handlers forever, and why one of those kittens, now a young adult, needs your help.
With an estimated 450 Canada lynx remaining in the US, including captive and wild individuals, we are in very real danger of losing these amazing native wildcats in our lifetime. In a time when the future of many species relies on having a healthy, genetically diverse captive population as a safety net against extinction, the alarming decrease of these cats is a call that Hawk Creek cannot ignore.
In response to this dire need to conserve this rare wildcat, Hawk Creek acquired Kodiak in 2011. Kodiak was nothing like we expected, all descriptions of lynx describe them as shy and elusive. Who writes these things? Kodiak arrived at the center with the grace of a bowling ball! Cats are ‘known’ to be lazy, but from the very beginning his energy and curious nature has kept his handlers on their toes. As an educational ambassador, Kodiak has been educating people about the plight of the lynx, after all, if no one knows what a Canada lynx is, why would they care enough to help them?
While at a Feline Conservation Federation conference, we were strongly urged by our peers to begin a breeding program to help maintain a viable population of lynx due to our experience with wildcats, our cold climate, and our success with our Barn Owl Breeding Project. This was easier said than done since we could only locate two breeders across the country with kittens. With our nontraditional diaper bag in hand, we faced the challenges of caring for a wild kitten during an 18 hour transport. We received odd looks from passersby when heating up formula and feeding a lynx at truck stops! Playing mom to anything is tough, playing mom to an endangered species is downright nerve wracking as we cared for Acadia day and night. In the meantime we still had to take care of over 90 other resident animals. We had been warned time and again that the Canada lynx is an extremely delicate cat that can aspirate easily and can become ill during weaning, so we spent weeks on edge watching and waiting for any sign of trouble. The day finally came when we could relax as we passed the scary milestones of raising a lynx, or so we thought.
At most facilities, animals are put under anesthesia for routine procedures such as dental work, physical exams, etc yearly, sometimes even twice a year. For one of these routine procedures we brought Acadia to the vet, and were hit with the fact that the “scary milestones” were not over. Within minutes of being put under anesthesia, before the procedure had even started, Acadia had a bad reaction to the gas and despite resuscitation efforts she never made it off the table. Words cannot describe the overwhelming sorrow and helplessness that we felt. All lives are precious, but the loss of a kitten so young and innocent was just too much to bear.
After this crushing blow, which was only made harder every time Kodiak saw us with a crate. He bounced around in excitement thinking it was his friend coming back to play with him, only to cry when he realized that the crate didn’t contain Acadia. We had to start the process all over again so that Kodiak wouldn’t have to be alone all winter. Miraculously we found another female, so logistics for another 2,200 mile trip, and thousands of dollars were orchestrated to transfer Sitka.
Sitka and Kodiak were instant soul mates. Upon introduction Sitka “whooped” at Kodiak and ran over to give him a headbutt greeting, being only 4 months old she was too short for the greeting and went right underneath him! From that point on they were inseparable and no one could watch these two without laughter or tears of joy. As staff watched the cats play, the future of our conservation program, though in its early stages, seemed brighter.
Then the unimaginable happened. Sitka was due to visit the vet, after what happened to Acadia the staff was a mess. With the delicacy of these cats, everything was checked and re-checked to ensure a safe procedure. Then just like Acadia, Sitka had a bad reaction to the anesthesia within a minute of being put under. As we once again held a kitten that had been too young and full of life to be dead in our arms, we buried her next to Acadia and our still healing hearts were shattered yet again.
We now find ourselves without a female, a very lonely Kodiak, and exhausted funds. We had to dig into the funds that had been set aside to expand our lynx enclosure for breeding in order to obtain Sitka. On top of that we are left with broken hearts and more questions than we have answers.
It’s tempting to throw in the towel, but how can we do that? Kodiak reminds us every day that lynx need help and he needs a friend. As a 501 c 3 not-for-profit organization, we constantly have to make choices on where to allocate funds to take care of our animals in the best way possible. This is how Hawk Creek has survived for 25 years. The financial losses of acquiring and transferring Acadia and Sitka, while last on our minds, are a reality that we must deal with.
This is why we are seeking your help. We are trying to raise funds to locate and transfer another female for Kodiak in the spring, and to build their breeding enclosure. We are looking for a very young kitten so that we may form a strong bond with it and train the cat from as early an age as possible. Combined with operant conditioning and trust, our goal is to be able to eliminte the need for anesthesia.
The Canada lynx is an endangered species whose weak paw-hold on existence is slipping more and more every day. The loss of every individual has a crucial impact on the species as a whole. This is the reason why Hawk Creek took on the challenge of trying to help this native wildcat.