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Alaska Zoo's lonely lynx appears to have found mate

Tegan Hanlon

It was a little like the plot of a romantic comedy, except with lynx. The setting: the Alaska Zoo.

Tony, an Alaska lynx, and Julie, from Colorado, grew up thousands of miles apart but were brought together under a "breeding loan," left to fall in love inside the confines of an exhibit.

Before the zoo played matchmaker, Tony, a 25-pound lynx with black-tipped ears, was living what keepers called the "bachelor's life." He meandered alone through his fenced-in habitat, ate his zoo-provided meals as a party of one and basked in his solitude as a middle-aged cat. He is 7.

Each winter in February -- also known as lynx breeding season -- Tony would cry out for companionship. No mates arrived but the zookeepers noticed, said Beth Foglesong, a senior keeper at the South Anchorage zoo.

Meanwhile, Julie roamed an exhibit at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her mother, father and two brothers. She was born into captivity in May 2013 and named after a philanthropist, said Dina Bredahl, animal care manager at the Colorado zoo.

"She was the most outgoing out of the three siblings," Bredahl said. "And she was the most focused when it came to training."

The two zoos agreed on a breeding loan that would send Julie to live with Tony for an indefinite period, sort of like an arranged marriage. Zookeepers taught her to enter a cage on command in preparation for her flight to Alaska.

She officially moved in with Tony at the Alaska Zoo on May 15. But the pair didn't hit it off at first.

For weeks, Tony made mating noises, trying to attract Julie, a smaller lynx weighing about 18 pounds. She met his advances with ambivalence.

"He really wanted to be her friend and she was all about checking out the exhibit," Foglesong said. "She was kind of ignoring him and he was kind of bent out of shape."

Zookeepers said within 20 minutes of entering her new home, Julie climbed a set of wooden stairs to a platform where Tony sat and pushed him off -- twice.

Still, Tony was persistent. It's unclear what eventually changed Julie's mind but on Monday keepers finally spied the two cats curled up together, sleeping in the sun.

"It's a match made in Alaska," Foglesong said.

The match is exciting for the zoo. The captive lynx population is low, Foglesong said. "Their offspring would be really valuable."

Tony is a wild lynx, the only cat at the zoo native to Alaska. The state's lynx population cycles every eight to 10 years, coinciding with the snowshoe hare population. As the hare population grows, more lynx kittens survive and the population increases. Then the hare population begins to decrease and the lynx start to struggle, said Rick Merizon, small-game biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"Here in Southcentral we're likely at a low right now," he said.

In 2007, a biologist found Tony on the side of the Old Glenn Highway near Eklutna. Tony was only a few weeks old, malnourished and infested with internal parasites. The biologist, who shares Tony's name, observed him for a while but his mother never returned.

"He was a pretty sickly little kitty," Foglesong said.

Tony moved into the spot at the Alaska Zoo where he would later meet Julie.

Zookeepers expected that because of Tony and Julie's age difference, the two would start as friends and perhaps mate in a few years. Monday's developments were a happy surprise.

"I would say they are getting along pretty well," Foglesong said.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.

 


By TEGAN HANLON
thanlon@adn.com