Pity the tiny band of lynx in the Polish half of Europe’s most ancient forest. In June, their home, the Białowieża Forest, was cut in half when the Polish government completed construction of a wall on its border with Belarus. The aim was to repel refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere being channeled to the border by the Belarus government. But the 115-mile wall — which towers 18 feet above the forest floor, stretching almost into the canopy above — has imprisoned migrating wildlife too.
The dozen or so lynx holed up on the Polish side of the barrier will no longer be able to hunt, feed, or breed with their more numerous fellows across the border. The wall dividing the 1,200 square-mile forest is expected to increase hunger among the lynx, and by limiting options for mates, decrease their already low genetic diversity.
In a letter sent in January, as work on the wall started, more than 500 wildlife scientists pleaded with the European Commission in Brussels to use its powers to halt the Polish government’s project. If construction went ahead, they said, the forest’s ecology faced “devastating consequences,” including “the collapse of the Polish lowland lynx population.”
But the wall was completed regardless. Rafał Kowalczyk of the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Mammal Research Institute, a signatory of the letter, says there is now “a high risk of extirpation” of the Polish lynx, meaning local extinction. [Continue reading…]