Yukon lynx populations peaking as snowshoe hare start to decline

The size of a lynx family photographed on the Haines Road earlier this week fits with the feline's current population cycles, according to an Yukon Environment biologist.

Lynx can have up to 8 young when the bunnies are abundant, as they are now

Stan and Melody McKenzie captured this image of a lynx family when they were driving the Haines Road on Monday. (Submitted by Melody McKenzie)

The size of a lynx family photographed on the Haines Road earlier this week fits with the cat's current population cycles, according to an Environment Yukon biologist. 

Earlier this week, photos of a lynx and her five young sunning themselves captured the of attention on social media.

Carnivore biologist Ramona Maraj said lynx can have up to eight kits, when the snowshoe hare, their main prey, are abundant.

"We're coming into what's known as a lynx high. Lynx cycle every 10 years with snowshoe hare. It's one of the more famous ecological phenomena," she said in an interview on CBC's A New Day. 

In low years, Maraj said lynx may have just one or two offspring. 

Some 'messiness' to the cycle

Maraj said the snowshoe hare populations have recently peaked and are now starting to collapse. Lynx populations usually lag by a year or two, meaning that their numbers may start to decline next year.  

Lynx are cryptic animals that are not often seen, says carnivore biologist. (Submitted by Melody McKenzie)

But Maraj said the cycle is actually quite complex, with factors like climate change playing a role. Sometimes, lynx will move off of hare and start eating squirrel, grouse and ptarmigan. 

"There's a little bit of messiness to it, but for the most part we do see a strong 10-year signal [cycle]."

She said the majority of research on lynx cycles has been done near Kluane Lake.

"It's pretty neat that such an amazing ecological phenomenon ... is studied here in the Yukon."

With files from A New Day


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.