The lynx is the second most common of Sweden’s large predators, and is found all over the country. The largest numbers of lynx are probably in central Sweden, while they are less common in the southern parts of the country. According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, there are approximately 1,800 lynx in Scandinavia. Around 1,400 of these are in Sweden.
Sweden’s only wild feline
The lynx is Sweden’s only wild feline, and is similar in many ways to a domestic cat. It is an expert stealth hunter, but lacks stamina over long distances. The shy lynx mostly moves around in the forest, and is mainly active at night.
About the lynxScientific name:
Males 20–25 kg, females 16–20 kgHeight at the withers:
Approx. 100 cmSexual maturity:
2 yearsBreeding season:
66–71 daysNumber of young:
1–4 (usually 2)Lifespan:
Approx. 10 years in the wild, considerably longer in animal parksEats:
Deer, reindeer, hares and birdsDistribution in Sweden:
From Småland to Norrbotten; most common in Bergslagen
Males and females without cubs live alone. They do not have marked territories like wolves do, instead moving around home ranges of up to 600 square kilometres.
The lynx has a short body, with long legs and large paws. The hind legs are longer than the front legs, giving the lynx a sloping back. The Scandinavian lynx is the largest of the world’s four lynx species. The lynx’s name means ‘light’ and refers to its fur, which – according to ancient Swedish folklore – could shine in the dark. During the summer, its fur is smooth and can vary between yellowish-brown and reddish-brown. Most lynx also have black spots in their fur. The winter coat is very thick and a lighter grey colour.
Its eyes are surrounded by white and black ‘brush strokes’, making them appear larger than they actually are. The back of the lynx’s ears are lined with black fur that ends in the characteristic tuft at the top of the ear. The lynx’s tail is shorter than most other feline tails, and has a black tip.
A skilled solitary hunter
The lynx is the most skilful solitary hunter of all the Swedish predators, and can bring down prey weighing up to five times as much as itself. In northern Sweden they feed mainly on reindeer, while in southern Sweden deer are their main source of food. Hares and birds are other common prey, and lynx sometimes also kill sheep and lambs. A lynx kills about one piece of prey each week. Once it has killed a larger piece of prey, it lies down and rests with the prey in sight before starting to eat. It eats the fleshy parts first, avoiding the entrails entirely. The lynx does not chew. It simply tears its prey into sufficiently small pieces and swallows them whole. A lynx takes an average of 55 reindeer or deer each year, while a female with cubs needs more than 70 pieces of prey.
Playful courtship and mating
The lynx reaches sexual maturity during the second year of its life, and usually has cubs when it is two or three years old. Mating takes place in mid-March, and during courtship and mating the lynx becomes very playful and climbs trees – something they otherwise only do to escape from enemies. The cubs are born in May or June, and a litter usually consists of two or three cubs weighing just over 300 grams at birth. The cubs have their eyes closed for the first ten days, but are very active and gain weight quickly. By around one month in age they can already climb up trees to protect themselves from enemies, and at six months they can take down large prey such as deer.
Saved by legal protection
The lynx has been sought after for its skin since Viking times. In King Gustav Vasa’s time (the 1550s), the price of a lynx skin was equivalent to the cost of five cows, or a year’s worth of rye for an entire family. The price subsequently dropped, and by the end of the 19th century it would have been 40 to 75 kronor, which was still a very large sum of money.
During the first half of the 19th century, between 100 and 300 lynx were killed every year. The lynx was on the verge of extinction by the early 20th century, but was saved thanks to protection in 1928. Lynx have also been hunted in the latter part of the 20th century, mainly in northern Sweden. However, controlled hunting has not prevented the lynx population from growing. Since 1995, wildlife management hunting has been permitted in those areas with the most lynx. The Riksdag (Sweden’s parliament) has decided that Sweden should have 250–300 annual lynx rejuvenations. The Riksdag also wants the number of lynx in the south of the country to increase, while they should decrease somewhere in reindeer herding areas.
The lynx is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the Swedish Species Information Centre’s red list.