National Geographic : 2006 Jan
In late May he finally got such a signal and immediately radioed Shenk, who was coordi nating ground crews ready to swoop in. "She's either dead, or she's in a den," Dickman said. Shenk and her team headed toward Dickman's coordinates. It was a den, with two kits inside. After that, a kitten deluge. The third den they found was Chilkat's; she'd given birth to the only kit quartet. After documenting Chilkat's litter, Shenk and her team raced from den to den, recording other kits' weight and sex, and plac ing an identity tag just under the skin between their shoulder blades. "We turned into kitten junkies," says Shenk. "We were just flying." At the summer solstice, 16 first-generation Colorado lynx kits had their pale blue eyes open to their new home. "There's nothing like a kit ten in your hand to say success," says Shenk. By the time the first snow fell that fall, two of Chilkat's four kits had perished-possibly killed by coyotes or plague. But she and her two sur vivors roamed the woods together, hunting snowshoe hares. The trio moved with ease up steep, snowy slopes, napping nestled in shallow day beds in the snow. They followed snowmo bile tracks and crossed roads, alternately stalk ing, pouncing, eating, playing, and sleeping. By the following February, Larry's yowls reminded Chilkat that mating season had begun, and she sent her kits off on their own. In June she returned to the same log where she had made her first Colorado den and gave birth to two more kits. The 2004 denning bonanza more than doubled the previous year's lynx crop: Shenk and her team documented 39 new Col orado felines. [KEEP 'EM COMING] Last summer Chilkat gave birth to four more kits. But many obstacles remain for the Colorado lynx. The number of people in the state has doubled since the last known lynx was killed in 1973, bringing more development, more recre ation in the forest, and more traffic. Still, the trend lines for the Colorado immigrants are Wide, harelike paws help a lynx skim through deep snow without sinking in, a crucial trait for hunting quiet prey such as snowshoe hares. Transmitters on a radio collar signal the cat's location and reveal whether it's still alive. 66 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC . JANUARY 2006 encouraging: 46 kits were documented last year, and there's a high likelihood that some uncol lared females have also given birth. The DOW accounted for at least 170 surviving lynx over all, and successful repeat breeders like Chilkat show every indication of continuing the trend. Chilkat's 2004 kits were radio collared early last year and stand poised to give birth to a second-generation lynx crop this year in June.