A biologist says there is no “cause for alarm.”

PORTLAND (AP) – Scientists have confirmed for the first time in Maine the presence of hybrid animals that are the offspring of bobcats and wild Canada lynx.

Although the findings provide the first evidence of such mixed cats’ fertility, state and federal researchers say they’re not concerned about the potential effect on Maine’s population of federally threatened lynx.

“We don’t really have any cause for alarm,” said John Organ, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Hadley, Mass.

Jennifer Vashon, the state’s lynx biologist, explained: “We have an area of Maine where we have lynx and we do not have bobcats, and in those areas we’re able to maintain pure strains of lynx.”

Still, the findings raise questions about the prevalence of crossbreeding between the two forest cats, which are similar in shape, size and stature.

Maine’s first known lynx-bobcat hybrid was trapped west of Greenville in 1998. Vashon was surprised when she saw the male cat, which had long ear tufts characteristic of lynx and small feet more suggestive of a bobcat.

Last fall a trapped female cat was discovered near Telos Lake by a graduate student from the University of Maine, who noticed three kittens nearby.

Researchers say the kittens’ presence indicates the mixed cats can reproduce. The only previous confirmed lynx-bobcats hybrids, found in Minnesota, were males and did not shed any light on the fertility question.

Samples from the two Maine cats were tested by the U.S. Forest Service in Missoula, Mont., which confirmed both animals were hybrids. Further DNA testing showed that each was born from a male bobcat and a female lynx.

Maine and federal officials have been working since 1997 to document the Canada lynx population in Maine, their only confirmed habitat in the northeast United States.

Researchers have radio-collared 32 lynx and tagged more than 60 kittens, Organ said, in a 200-square mile area where northern Piscataquis County abuts Aroostook County.

That’s north of the region where both lynx and bobcats can be found, a swath of land that runs from the Millinocket area in the east to around Greenville in the west, said Vashon.

Scientists say it’s hard to know whether there are more mixed cats in Maine.

“We don’t know enough to say for sure how likely that is because we don’t know the density of lynx in that area where both species overlap,” Organ said.

A recent study by a University of Maine graduate student indicated the state is home to 200 to 500 Canada lynx.

The lynx, which shares common recent ancestors with the bobcat, is listed as a federally threatened species in 14 states. The hybrid cats are not protected by Endangered Species Act, according to the researchers.

AP-ES-08-27-03 1712EDT

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