Cat species don’t get much rarer than the Balkan lynx (lynx lynx martinoi). At most, 100 members of this critically endangered subspecies of the Eurasian lynx (lynx lynx) remain in the wilds of Macedonia and Albania, according to extensive surveys organized* by the Coordinated Research Projects for the Conservation and Management of Carnivores (KORA), based in Switzerland. The species is legally protected in both countries, and an unofficial national symbol of Macedonia, but its rarity has also made it misunderstood and easily targeted.

"There seems to be a lack of knowledge about the species and the legislation," says Manuela von Arx, of the Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme (BLRP).

To help protect the remaining lynx, the BLRP has made education and awareness its key strategies. "Lynx are killed accidently in snares or when eating poisoned meat that was meant for another species," says von Arx, who also fears that several lynx have also been killed for their fur.

There's also an ongoing fear that lynx prey upon livestock, although von Arx says actual livestock depredation is quite rare. The lynx -- the third largest predator in Europe -- actually feed upon roe deer, hares and a goat-like species called the chamois,* all of which are losing ground to habitat loss just like the lynx itself.

Other BLRP activities include interviewing people in the lynx range, passing out leaflets and posters in villages, and working with the local media. The lynx has been the subject of several TV shows in Macedonia, says von Arx.

One key to long-term conservation, according to the BLRP, is better law enforcement. But even more important, says von Arx, is teaching local people and land users to tolerate predators such as the Balkan lynx, wolves and bears.

No matter what, "The population size of the Balkan lynx population is surely not sufficient and needs to be recovered," says von Arx. A more detailed conservation plan is in the works, and expected to be complete by the end of this year.

Update [3-5-09]: Changed sentences with asterisks to clarify that KORA organized the surveys in question, with help from other organizations, and to give the precise name of goat-like species on which lynx prey.

Image: The Balkan Lynx, an unofficial national symbol of Macedonia, appears on a 1994 Macedonian stamp