A group of animal researchers struck gold in 2016 when they caught some unusual behavior on film. The experts had been studying lynxes in the wild for a number of years. But they’d rarely captured this incredible sound on camera.
Swan Valley lies in the heart of the Flathead National Forest in Montana. The idyllic area boasts a surfeit of beautiful streams, lakes and creeks. Its geographical features aren’t the rural valley’s only natural attractions, though.
Swan Valley is part of the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem. The area is one of the last truly wild landscapes in North America. As such, it is home to an extraordinary range of fauna. Among the valley’s residents are bears, wolves, foxes and lynxes.
Swan Valley Connections is a non-profit organization that hopes to preserve the area’s biodiversity for future generations. It believes that the best way to do this is by strengthening people’s bonds with their natural environment. So, the organization raises local residents’ awareness of the amazing wildlife on their very doorstep.
One way that it strives to achieve this is through social media. On Facebook, the non-profit has more than 12,000 followers. And the team at Swan Valley Connections keep them updated with news of the wildlife in the area.
Among the most fascinating mammals to roam the valley is the Canada lynx. As their name suggests, the wildcats are found across Canada and into Alaska. They are much rarer in the United States mainland, however.
The Canada lynx can be easily recognized thanks to its distinctive long ear tufts and black-tipped tail. Since they generally live in cold climates, the animals have thick fur and large paws. And these features come in handy when hunting in the snow.
The animals’ main prey are snowshoe hares. However, they will feast on other small mammals if hare numbers are low. They tend to hunt at night, when they can use their heightened hearing and sight to pounce on unsuspecting prey.
Mating season for lynxes comes in the winter, and females have just one small litter a year. Their mom remains with her young for around 12 months, during which time she teaches them how to hunt. After that, they tend to lead a solitary existence, hunting and living alone.
However, while the lynxes in Swan Valley might traverse the forest solo, they are not, strictly speaking, alone. Alongside other rare animals in the area, the lynxes have been part of an observation program for half a decade. During this time, researchers tracked the creatures’ activities using cameras and radio collars.
The technology had provided wildlife experts with fascinating insights into the lives of lynxes and their four-legged neighbors. And one incident that they caught on camera was particularly valuable. That’s because hardly anyone had previously captured footage of it happening in the wild.
The clip in question came from one of Swan Valley Connections’ special bait stations. The organization established the stations in 2014 to collect genetic samples from carnivores without humans having to touch them. Moreover, since then they’ve had other unintended benefits.
On this occasion, which took place in 2016, cameras at the station had picked up a passing Canada lynx. Coming to a stand-still right in front of the device, the big cat let out an unusual call. According to the video’s description, this was a rare example of a lynx vocalization.
The strange noise sounded more like a bark than anything normally associated with a cat – big or small. Some people refer to the sound as a scream or a yowl. Moreover, those few lucky enough to have heard the vocalization in person have called it nerve-wracking and spine-tingling.
With that said, the calls caused nothing but delight when the team at Swan Valley Connections first heard them. In fact, they were so happy with their video that they decided to share it online.
“Rare footage of a Canada lynx vocalizing in the wild,” read the accompanying caption. “This footage was captured this winter as Swan Valley Connections, the Blackfoot Challenge, and the Forest Service work together to monitor rare carnivores for the Southwestern Crown Collaborative. BE SURE TO TURN VOLUME UP!”
And it seemed that the video captured the imagination of all those who saw it. Since it went live, in fact, more than a million people have tuned in to watch the footage. Furthermore, Swan Valley Connection’s post attracted more than 6,000 reactions and close to 20,000 shares.
The clip also received a number of comments from people who couldn’t resist analyzing the sounds for themselves. “Sounds a little hoarse. More like a gurgling dog,” wrote one. “I love hearing these vocalizations of animals in the wild, since I’ll never get to see or hear it in person.”
Other users offered theories as to why the lynx might be making those strange noises. “I thought he was hacking up a hairball,” one wrote. “It does sound a bit hoarse,” another added. “[I] wondered if the collar that he is sporting is too tight?! Beautiful lynx!”
However, it turned out that neither a hairball nor a tight collar were responsible for the lynx’s calls. According to Swan Valley Connections, the vocalizations are particularly prominent during mating season. So, perhaps the lynx was simply looking for love.