DENVER Wildlife biologists trekked into the mountains of south-central Wyoming to find the latest batch of kittens born to a lynx released in efforts to restore the cat to Colorado.
Confirmation of the three kittens found in a den in Wyoming's Snowy Range brings to 20 the number of known births this year among lynx released in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
The kittens found last week are the first known out-of-state births by Colorado lynx and the first documented in southern Wyoming. They are also the latest sign the recovery program is taking hold after a shaky start in 1999 and concerns about when the lynx would start reproducing after being brought in from Canada.
''We're pretty excited. Hopefully things will continue to move forward,'' said Rick Kahn, head of the Colorado Division of Wildlife's lynx recovery program.
Last year, the first year the cats reproduced, six dens with a total of 16 kittens were recorded. Kahn said Thursday he expects additions to the 20 kittens documented so far this year.
Kahn said he wasn't surprised by the news of a Colorado lynx making a den in Wyoming. Biologists have monitored radio-collared lynx roaming more than 200 miles from southwestern Colorado into southern Wyoming.
The wildlife agency has released 176 of the long-haired, tuft-eared cats since 1999. Kahn said roughly 100, including kittens, are known to be alive; trackers believe at least six of last year's kittens survived.
The radio collars on female lynx released in 2000 are starting to wear out. Kahn said biologists are trying to capture and re-collar as many adult cats as possible.
The Division of Wildlife began releasing lynx five years ago to try to restore the cat to Colorado, the southernmost tip of the animal's historic range. Trapping, poisoning and development wiped out native lynx, with the last confirmed sighting before the recovery program coming in 1973 near Vail.
The lynx is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, which gives it federal protection. Colorado lists the cat as endangered.
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