A lynx that had been spotted with some regularity at Purgatory Resort the past few weeks was found dead Sunday, according to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman.
Purgatory ski patrol members found the animal on a ski slope on the west side of the mountain near Lift 8. The adult female lynx will be sent to a lab for the animal equivalent of an autopsy, CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski said.
“CPW’s veterinarians will do a complete evaluation of the animal,” Lewandowski said. “It will include an examination of stomach contents, a check for parasites and injuries, an assessment of its internal organs, and blood tests.”
He said results may not be known for a few weeks, and that an initial examination found the lynx was emaciated.
The first video of the lynx leisurely strolling the slopes of Purgatory surfaced on Dec. 28, as the normally elusive animal ambled through a crowd of enthralled skiers and snowboarders on the Demon Trail with seeming indifference to the spellbound onlookers.
The video caught national attention, with The Denver Post, The Washington Post and Huffington Post all reposting the incredibly rare scene.
In the following weeks, similar videos of the lynx languishing across trails on the ski mountain north of Durango were posted on social media. While most commenters expressed glee an animal that was nearly extinct by the 1970s had taken up residence at Purgatory, others speculated whether the unusual behavior of the lynx, one of North America’s most elusive animals, was more likely attributed to an illness.
“The first time I saw it, I wasn’t entirely surprised because we do get a lot of reports of lynx sightings,” said Scott Wait, senior terrestrial biologist for CPW’s southwest region, in a prepared statement. “But after I saw three more videos of the same animal behaving the same way in the same area I figured that something was wrong with the cat.”
Lynx were reintroduced in Colorado in 1999, after the animal had been all but destroyed by habitat loss and poaching. A decade later, CPW declared the effort a success with an estimated 150 to 250 lynx in the state, though it’s difficult to determine exact population, wildlife officials say. The lynx is protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Southwest Colorado is considered a “stronghold” for the animal, with ample timberline habitat and low density of roads.
“We don’t want people to think that a lynx is sick every time they see one,” Wait said. “Lynx are doing well in Colorado, but face the same challenges all wildlife does.”
Lewandowski previously said the lynx was not collared, which means it was born in the wild and at least 2 years old.