This morning, I have been reading about the re-introduction of Iberian lynxes into the wild.
When the number of lynxes plummeted dramatically, the lynx became the most endangered cat in the world.
Scientists decided to capture some wild lynxes, in order to protect them, hoping they’d breed in captivity. It worked. It’s been five years since the project began and they’ve reached the exciting stage of releasing some of the lynxes back into the wild. Some of the one-year old cats are now free to roam the wild Spanish terrain, with the hope that numbers of the wild cat will improve over the coming years.
This news story conjured up a memory.
Living in Meribel, we were driving home one night after a party when we turned the corner of the winding road, to see a thickly set, scraggy-looking brown cat with big ears trotting towards us. It moved like a wild cat and it looked stockier than a domestic one. I had no idea that lynxes lived in the Alps but this animal, sauntering down the road was undeniably a wild cat of some sort.
“What was that?” I asked a friend of ours, who was cautiously driving up the icey roads.
“A wild cat, a lynx”, he replied.
I had no idea that anything this mythical lived here. I spent the next afternoon researching what other wild animals lived in the woodlands around the hotel.
“Be careful of the wild boars”, warned one ski instructor as I recounted the story to a friend one night. “They’re dangerous”. His sincere expression led me to believe that he wasn’t mocking me.
We lived at the Altiport, which is high above the town centre of Meribel, at the very top of the mountain. In front of us was an airport landing zone, to our left was a piste and other than that, woodlands surrounded us. There are not many buildings here, it is very quiet and also very dark at night. We were in prime location for admiring the bright stars at night and the changing colours of the sky in the daytime. It was also an incredible place for sunsets and sunrises. G’s favourite thing however, about this quiet location, was the possibility to spot unusual creatures. He was always looking for tracks in the snow or photographing pretty birds.
The experience reminded me of another time that I was intrigued by animals in the snow. Once upon a time, I thought I spotted reindeer. On a long bubble lift, in a very quiet ski resort, I saw a herd of animals making their way across the snowy, wild expanse far below me. I had nobody with me to verify or to share my excitement but my eager imagination, coerced by the snowy, magical landscape was wrong; it was another kind of deer.
The morning after the lynx sighting, the bus didn’t show up, so I decided to walk down the mountain instead. There had been heavy snowfall during the night and unfortunately, figuring out how to get to work in such conditions, was one of the perils of living outside of town. The journey down the snaking roads, took over an hour on foot.
Stomping down the mountain, I thought I saw a short cut and headed down a snowy incline. The route was a little steeper than I had previously perceived and I stumbled to the floor, skidding down a few metres. Thankfully some coarse plants had penetrated the snow and I grabbed onto some prickly vines to steady my fall. I cut my hands on the sharp thorns but the pain was worth it. The thought of slipping further down the rocky edge, was making me panic. As I wondered how I could heave myself back up the steep slope and onto the road, a thought occurred to me, a thought that I didn’t really want to consider in this instance.
I wondered, “How dangerous are lynxes? How big do they grow?”, as I tugged onto the plant to pull myself back up, praying it wouldn’t snap. The extra adrenaline helped me climb back up quicker than usual. I looked for tracks in the snow as I went, my imagination stirring with images of cat attacks. Once I was back on the road, I could see the snow machines pushing the roads clear and the bus veering around the corner just behind it.
The bus stopped to pick me up. All was well once more.
When I got to work, I asked a colleague whether there are any dangerous wild animals here.
“No, they get scared by the noise. There’s nothing here. Not like America.”
I was shocked by the images she showed me; mainly by my ignorance. The beautiful mountain lion, was what I had feared an adult lynx may resemble. I read that it could jump over 18 feet in the air and that it lay in wait on the branches of trees. I imagined skiing past one. I knew I had to brush up on my animal knowledge. I tried to find a David Attenborough DVD to help. I spent evenings in the chalet watching documentaries on wildlife and survival. A few times the irony of watching the DVDs whilst being tucked-up in the warm, with slippers and a pot of tea, amused me. All this because of the lynx.
It was the idea of seeing a lynx that night, which sparked my interest in wildlife. Seeing animals in the wild is a truly amazing experience. I shall never forget the times that I have seen beautiful animals in their own habitat. If we leave these animals alone to prosper we could have mountain safaris – now that would be a great experience.
I hope that lynxes are left to prosper in number and that this project continues to work! It shouldn’t be a mythical creature. It should be free to roam the European landscape, to excite the imagination of people for years to come. It should be as wild as imagination.