This question has been popping up on social media a lot this winter, probably because lynx sightings appear to be on the rise. At least there have been more sightings this winter in my area of the Upper Midwest.
Positive identification is tricky; these wild felines have a lot of similarities, and it’s difficult to tell them apart if you aren’t used to seeing them. I’m lucky enough to live in an area where their ranges overlap, so I get to see both species on occasion. But then I spend a lot of time looking for them, too. Usually all I find are tracks.
Both lynx and bobcats are secretive animals and are rarely seen, especially in daylight. They are primarily nocturnal hunters, feeding on a wide variety of small mammals, birds, and even reptiles in the summer. Lynx tend to specialize in Snowshoe hares, and the lynx population rises and falls with hare populations, but like most predators, they will eat whatever they can catch. Bobcats are less picky and will hunt a wider variety of prey. Both lynx and bobcats will occasionally tackle prey that is much larger than themselves, up to and including deer-sized animals. It all depends how hungry they are.
To add further to the confusion, bobcats (Lynx rufus) and Canada lynx (Lynx candensis) are known to interbreed, but since that’s a rare occurrence we’re going to stick to the differences in pure examples of their species.
The first thing to note is that the size of the animal isn’t a very good way to determine what it is. A big male bobcat in my area can weigh 30 pounds, that’s easily in the weight range of lynx here, too.
Much more telling if you only get a glimpse is that bobcats are noticeably shorter than lynx, in length, and especially in height.
Lynx have very long legs – particularly their hind legs. A lynx almost appears to be walking on stilts compared to a bobcat. Lynx also have a much grayer look to them than the reddish brown of bobcats.
Around here some people call lynx the “Gray ghost,” both as a reference to their reclusive, silent nature, and the color of their coats. Lynx may show some spots and speckling, but compared to a bobcat, which is generally highly spotted, lynx look much more uniform.
Ear tufts also can help with ID, since lynx ear tufts are generally much longer than a bobcat’s. But since both species have the tufts, unless they are standing side-by-side you may not be able to perceive the difference. The same holds true for the ruff around their faces. Lynx ruffs tend to be more pronounced, but unless you can see them next to each other, the difference will be tough to see.
Besides the length of the legs, the size of the feet is one dead giveaway. Lynx feet are gigantic compared to the bobcat’s. Let’s face it, lynx feet are huge compared to a lot of things. Relative to their body size, lynx feet are among the biggest in nature. They have to be. Since lynx primarily feed on snowshoe hares, those big, furry feet are a real asset in chasing prey through deep snow.
But probably the easiest way to determine which cat you are looking at is by checking the tail. Both cats have “bobbed” tails, but a lynx tail is tipped in all black fur. Bobcat tails have white undersides and distinct banding. So, if you only catch a glimpse of a wild cat darting across a road or through the forest, focus on the tail. If you see white on the underside of the tip and bands of darker fur along its length, it’s a bobcat.
If the tip is all black, you have yourself a lynx.
Of course, it also helps to know if you are even in the range where Canada lynx are found. They are primarily a Boreal forest species, found only in the northern tier of U.S. states, Canada, and Alaska. There are a few lynx in the high country of the Central Rockies, but if you want to see lynx, go north.
Bobcats, on the other hand, are much more widespread and are found pretty much across the lower 48 states of the U.S. and much of Mexico. The population of bobcats is much higher overall than the lynx population, so if you see a wildcat anywhere other than deep in the Boreal woods, chances are it’s a bobcat.
But there are plenty of lynx out there if you know where to look. And if you are really lucky, you may just get to see something like this:
Here is that side-by-side comparison one more time. Click to enlarge (opens in new tab):
All photographs and text appearing here are copyrighted. No unauthorized use of the text or images is allowed without written permission from Keith R. Crowley and Lodge Trail Media.
I recently had an opportunity to photograph the interaction of a lion and a Cape buffalo in Tanzania, East Africa. Since the photo below was published, I’ve had several requests for the backstory, and for more images from the series, too.
So here’s the short story:
This male lion had a girl in the rocks that you can’t see in the first image. The pair of lions started out that morning at first light, very close to the Rover I was in. I was lucky to get some close-up mating images, and I can tell you now that lion mating is a noisy, snarly affair.
Gradually the lions worked their way over a small rise, heading towards a rocky outcrop next to a river. The lioness leading the way, of course, and he followed her closely. They mated occasionally on the trek, as lions often do.
Eventually they reached the rocks and the two lions were having a smoke, metaphorically speaking, when a large herd of cape buffalo started milling around the scene. There were probably 300 or so buffalo in the the herd. Most of the buff continued on across the river, but a few didn’t want to leave the lions alone.
The lions were completely ignoring the buff, right up until a particularly voyeuristic bull decided to test the male lion’s resolve. The old bull slowly got closer and closer to the big cat until the lion actually took a swipe at him. At one point they were less than two feet apart. You can see the lion’s displeasure in the photos. The roaring was constant and intense.
Coitus Interruptus Syncerus
The buffalo, satisfied that he had ruined the party, stood his ground. Eventually the lioness got tired of all the testosterone and left the rocks. The lion followed, as they often do, and they both wandered out of view.
Wish you could’ve been there.
All images are copyrighted and available in hi-res for licensing.
I recently returned from a trip to Tanzania; a trip I told everyone was about cheetahs, and lions, and leopards.
I lied. It was actually a trip to fulfill a lifelong dream to see Olduvai Gorge, and to walk in the footsteps of my childhood heroes, Louis and Mary Leakey.
I was a strange child.
The Leakeys, as you may know, were giants in the field of human evolution. In the 1950s and 60s, they made discovery after discovery which added to our knowledge of how we came to be. Much of their work was done in a place called Olduvai Gorge, in Tanzania.
Since I am a child of the 60s, I grew up watching their accomplishments on television and in magazines like National Geographic. I dreamed that someday I might meet Louis and Mary, and maybe even find a way to do what they do.
My obsession was so bad that I actually wrote a letter to Louis in about 1970, when I was 9 years old. I have no idea what I wrote, or how the letter found it’s way to Africa, but Mary replied. Somewhere in a sea of less important paperwork, I still have that letter. In it Mary explained that Louis was very busy, but that they both appreciated my letter. And she encouraged my interest in human evolution.
I often wish I had followed up on that letter, but when I heard that Louis passed away in 1972, my dreams of becoming a world-famous anthropologist faded too. I went on to other things, mostly wildlife-related things like writing and photography.
And that’s how I finally found my way to Olduvai Gorge.
Situated between two of the great wildlife meccas in Africa – Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti plains – Olduvai Gorge, and the site of Mary Leakey’s discovery of Zinjanthropus in 1959, is a place I had to visit.
Giving up a day of Big Cats and Great Migrations isn’t an easy choice for most wildlife photographers, but it was a prerequisite for my first trip to Africa.
A thunderstorm rolled in just as I arrived, and I watched silently as a deluge of rain washed the valley. I toured the tiny little museum, and I persuaded one of the guides there to take me to the site of Mary Leakey’s historic discovery. He didn’t want to drive into the gorge and cross the Olduvai River in a driving rain, but I was not going to be denied.
It was slick and muddy, but worth the risk (and the tip) to be able to stand in the footsteps of my heroes.
The site is still an active dig, although only in the middle of the Tanzanian winter – June, July, and August. Since I was there in January, I was alone, with only my guide. And for a time I forgot completely about wildlife and photography.
I was lost in my thoughts and almost didn’t take any photos at the small monument commemorating Mary’s discovery, but my guide suggested I should. I’m glad he did.
It’s time once again for an annual “best of” post. Again this year I have limited the gallery to a dozen of my favorite images and I added a few comments about each shot for some backstory. I hope you enjoy them.
They’re arranged roughly chronologically and clicking on a photo will take you to the full gallery with many other favorites from 2016 that didn’t quite make it into this post.
So there has been another Grizzly bear attack in the Rocky Mountain West, and thankfully this time the person attacked lived to tell the tale. Not only did he tell the tale, but he posted a video of the aftermath on his Facebook page.
The person, Todd Orr, was hiking in the Madison Range near Ennis, Montana, when a sow grizzly with cubs attacked him. He had bear spray and he used it. But the bear was determined to protect her young and after the initial attack, she followed Orr back on the trail and attacked him again.
As human populations expand into unfamiliar territory, violent encounters with extant and expanding wildlife populations are going to increase. As those conflicts increase, the calls for people to stay out of “the bear’s home” in the first place also increase. It happened when Lance Crosby was attacked and killed in Yellowstone last summer, and it’s happening again with Mr. Orr.
I’ll let the social media pundits debate what Mr. Orr may have done wrong and whether the attack was defensive or predatory, but from my perspective Orr did everything right. Of more concern to me is the underlying theme that emerges when incidents like this happen.
For some reason, whenever wildlife conflicts happen, whether it’s bears, mountain lions, bison, or even smaller animals, there is an instant reaction on social media that the person “deserved to be attacked” because he or she had no business being in the wild.
This short-sighted perspective insists that humans don’t belong in the wilderness… and certainly not alone in the wilderness.
Well, I’m here to say that not only do some of us belong in the wilderness, but we need to be there. Spending time alone in the wilderness can be a truly transformative experience for people who are used to concrete and glass.
Thankfully, conservation history is replete with humans who recognized the value and necessity of a true wilderness experience.
People like John Muir, John Burroughs, Horace Kephart, George Washington Sears, Theodore Roosevelt, Sigurd Olson, Aldo Leopold, and the many unsung others worked tirelessly on behalf of wilderness specifically because they knew it intimately. That intimacy came from many weeks, months, and sometimes even years of solitude in wild places. They saw those places vanishing and in need of protection.
And those same people all knew very well that wild places can be dangerous places. That’s part of their allure.
We only have those few small, precious remnants of wilderness today because people with vision and determination were allowed to go there alone and see the value of wild land. To call for human exclusion is to call for the end of wilderness.
You can read Mr. Orr’s full and graphic account of the attack on Facebook here: