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Curiosity and the Canada Lynx

My first glimpse of the feline was at 110km per hour on the right hand side of the highway. The cat’s sun bleached golden brown body appeared to be resting with only the long black tips of its ears giving any indication of life.

I quickly decelerated and pulled over to the side of the road. I hastily grabbed my camera and carefully approached the animal. Sure enough, it was lying in a bunch of small mixed vegetation, near a small ravine. I then called out to the cat to let it know I was near.

As I got closer it became evident this cat was a lynx; a big pawed, furry faced lynx. Unconcerned, it stood up, stretched its back like an old house cat, and faced me. In this motion I realized that this cat was at one time quite large for a lynx and likely a male. His thin frame suggested he weighed only 15 or 20 kilograms. Even at that, most of him was likely fur. However, in his prime with an extra few kilograms on him, he was probably a king of the medium sized carnivores of the forest. Now though, he was old, gaunt and not the least bit ready to sprint away. Instead, as I snapped away several frames from 15 metres away, it started to assertively step directly towards me.

I should tell you that I was on Alberta’s Highway 40 heading northwest between Hinton and Grande Cache, Alberta—an area rich with wildlife of all shapes and sizes. Having lived in this area for some time before, and spending countless hours exploring it for15 years or so, I have had my share of wildlife encounters with all sorts. This however, was quite different.

The cat came within 10 metres of me before I loudly told it to stop; which it did. For the ensuing few minutes we gazed at each other from a respectful mutually agreed upon distance. The lynx even sat back down and started cleaning itself!

Though I am fit but small, and speculating on the age and observing the physical condition of this cat, I still did not want to take any chances. It could be starving, have distemper, or be thinking I might be a threat. I then turned and briskly walked back to my truck. Interestingly, as I turned to walk away, so did the lynx!

Once back in my truck I decided to drive back to the lynx and park nearby in the event of the lynx’s unpredictable nature turning hostile. I don’t want to give the impression that I normally approach wild carnivores, but in this particular case I went back with my camera and a large, solid hiking stick. I had only ever seen a lynx once before on the same highway in the thick of winter. This time it just so happened to be a late July afternoon and this lynx was more than willing to pose.

In no way did I feel threatened, nor did I threaten the animal. I tried to continue conveying a sense of the same non threatening curiosity this cat was showing to me.

I walked confidently towards it calling, “Here kitty, kitty.”

Its big serious faced turned to me as I stepped closer. As soon as I stopped he started taking slow confident footsteps towards me.

I called out, “That’s enough!” and it stopped.

I then waved my hiking stick around to make myself appear larger. Unimpressed, the lynx just sat back down and started liking its paws. Typical cat!

For a few more minutes we just stared back at each other from a few metres (by this time we were both sitting). Finally, I had an idea for some amusement. As I was sitting on a hill, and the lynx was below me I started rolling some large rocks down the hill well away from him. The cat would then ‘chase’ the rocks and bat them with its paws. We repeated a round of this game with a plastic bottle, which after biting a few times, kitty didn’t so much like the taste of.

Soon, there were no more toys for the game to continue and the lynx resumed its nap. After some time, I called out to it again, and stepped a little closer. The lynx reciprocated. This continued until it was a mere two metres away, and we were now attracting the attention of passing motorists. The exhilarating urge to let it sniff my fingers was clouding my better judgement. The idea of touching a lynx seemed all too real and one step too close.

I called out, “Stop!”

We gazed at each other. Those big paws stood in front of me like oven mitts, and his wild magenta eyes stared intently at me with his grizzled face connecting to the body of a cat that had likely seen many experiences in the bush. Its loose skin draped over long, tired leg bones that now only wanted to rest. He looked peaceful and wise. However, by now a concerned motorist had stopped in his car to ask if I was okay. I was starting to feel somewhat foolish, as the lynx was still sitting only a couple metres away from me. I turned to walk up to the motorist, and the cat slowly stepped back to the location of its original nap. After assuring the gentleman I was fine, we watched as the lynx continued his lazy saunter back to the ravine. I thanked the man and his companion for stopping, and jumped into in my vehicle.

I drove away wondering if my curiosity had gone too far and whether or not I had put my safety and that of others as well as the cat’s in jeopardy. Sure, it was a lanky, ultra senior citizen lynx still fully capable of inflicting severe harm. Though, at no time was this cat threatening me, nor did I give any sign of being intent on harming it. Moreover, despite being much bigger and healthier than it, plus the fact I had in my possession a big stick, I doubt he felt threatened by me. Rather, I felt at ease in his presence. It was a big house cat that typically kills nothing larger than a snowshoe hare.

While I do not by any means recommend for people to pursue close encounters with wildlife, the ability to experience such a marvellous and normally shy creature so close and for so long makes one truly appreciate what a precious gift we have in the remaining wilderness around us. From this experience I feel it is our curiosity of the natural world and wildlife which rewards us with an overwhelming sense of awe, gratitude and even spirituality. In turn, such a connection can be enhanced and reciprocated safely through increased authentic education and conservation methods.

Yes, my encounter might have been a gamble, but in this case I truly feel curiosity was worth it.

Andy Klimach