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Wild lynx are either dangerous or docile – but we need to decide

It’s interesting that everyone is making such a fuss about this ‘dangerous wild lynx’ that has escaped from a Welsh animal park. Various reports have described it as ‘fearsome’ warning that it ‘could eat pets’ and be ‘aggressive if cornered’. The park itself ­­– Borth Wild Animal Kingdom in Ceredigion – says that: ‘There have never been any recorded attacks of a lynx on a human, but they are a wild animal… and will attack if cornered or trapped. If you spot her, please don’t approach her.’

Animals escape from zoos and wildlife parks all the time. Another lynx, ‘Flaviu’, escaped last summer in similar circumstances from a park in Dartmoor. He was recaptured and returned to the zoo after three weeks on the loose – but not before savaging four lambs. But what has struck me as being a bit strange about this whole furore is that while the public are being warned that this cat might grab their family pets for lunch, in another part of the country it’s becoming increasingly likely that the very same big cats could be reintroduced to the wild.

 

Lynx have been extinct in the wild in the UK for over a thousand years, but the Lynx Trust UK have submitted an application to reintroduce the animals in Northumberland’s Kielder Forest. The trust is waiting to hear back from Natural England about whether their plan – which is to introduce six of the cats on a five-year trial basis – gets the go-ahead. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, not everyone in the area is keen on the idea. Farmers are worried about the threat to their livestock, locals are worried about their own safety and that of their pets, while the local MP Guy Opperman has accused the charity of behaving in a ‘confrontational and high-handed’ way over their plans.

It is interesting, though, that while the Lynx Trust UK are keen to state that their animals are unlikely to pose a danger to the public or their pets, the escaped lynx is making headlines. The Lynx Trust say that ‘we’ve struggled to find any solid evidence of wild Eurasian lynx attacking dogs’, although they ‘do attack and kill foxes’. Again, ‘there’s no clear evidence of wild lynx attacking pet cats, in a few studies domestic cats have emerged within lynx diet but lacking any corresponding reports of pet cats going missing; an explanation could be that these are feral cats.’ Hmm. Oh, and they kill ‘very few sheep’, with deer being their main food source – so farmers needn’t worry.

I understand that it might be ‘nice’ to have lynx back in the UK – though I can’t see that they’ll be much of a tourist attraction since they’re both nocturnal and reclusive, and would far rather steer clear of humans than put on a nice show for them. But we need to make our minds up here. Either an escaped lynx is something that the public need to ‘be vigilant’ about – as the local police are currently advising – or we’re perfectly happy to have them back in the wild, at little risk to humans, pets, or livestock.


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