There’s a real cat fight going on in the UK at the moment, and it’s all to do with the European lynx being reintroduced to the forests of Scotland and the North of England.
Africa’s big game regularly hit’s the headlines as more and more species head toward extinction due to man’s greed. The UK though, also has its problems, with greater numbers of its already depleted natural wildlife hitting the endangered species list.
The European lynx is endemic in Asia, the Middle East, and 46 European countries – except the UK. Here, it has been estimated from fossil finds, and DNA testing, that the last known UK lynx, died out in Scotland over 1,000 years ago.
The European Lynx:
The lynx is much larger than the few genuine wildcats which are thought to be surviving in Scotland. Wildcats, similar in size to the domestic cat, are on the verge of extinction due to breeding with the increasing number of feral cats, and being hunted by gamekeepers. There are thought to be less than fifty true wildcats left in Scotland at the last census. The European lynx, more like the North American bobcat than your common-or-garden moggie, can reach 70lb in weight, the size of a medium dog. It is the third largest predator in Europe after the wolf and brown bear, and lives between 10 to 15 years in the wild.
A loner, preferring dense forest habitat, it is rarely seen by humans. A gifted hunter, its diet consists of hare, rabbits, and deer. Deer are the reason conservationist’s are hoping to introduce the lynx back to the Scottish Highlands. The UK is now heavily over populated by roe deer, which cause extensive damage to new forest planting. Young shoots, along with saplings are a major food source for the deer, and new arboretums are continuously being attacked.
It is hoped that reintroducing the lynx will begin to reduce deer numbers by natural predation.
Backed by Some – But Not Others:
Unsurprisingly, there are supporters of the reintroduction of these animals, and those against it. The Scottish Wildlife Trust, newly formed Lynx UK Trust, and many animal biologists, as you would expect, are heavily in favour of reintroduction. Many farmers and landowners on the other hand are against it.
Farmers concerns are obvious; the hills around many Scottish forests are the grazing ground for highland sheep. Fear of the lynx taking sheep and lambs as easy prey is a worry, although a generous compensation plan for lost livestock will be introduced.
Landowners concerns however, are focussed more on the financial loss they would incur by lynx taking the money making grouse and pheasant. The same reason they turn a blind-eye to gamekeepers illegally shooting and trapping, to the verge of extinction, the Golden Eagle, and various hawks, who view these game birds as a food source.
The wildlife trusts and biologists believe the farmers fears at least, are unfounded. Despite in-depth research no report of lynx ever attacking humans could be found in any country where they still roam. And few reports of domestic livestock being taken were unearthed.
The scientists believe the lynx’s secretive nature, hiding in the dense forests, will be enough to stop them crossing open fields to reach unattended livestock grazing on the hillsides. But the farmers’ worries are understandable. Big game cats in Africa naturally hunt the new born, young, old, and infirm, being easier to catch and bring down than 100% fit animals.
Should the lynx, either by chance, or forced by hunger, reach the livestock in the open, it will soon realise bringing down a lamb or ewe, is much easier than bringing down a roe deer…and that’s if they can catch the deer.
Two or three pairs of lynx will be released into the Scottish forest to begin the experiment. All fitted with radio tags their movements and habits can be tracked and recorded. Should the unexpected occur, and the lynx decide to move to the more lucrative pickings of sheep, then the scientists should be able to monitor them, and take steps accordingly, so they say.
Large Predators Roaming the UK:
Will the general public take to large predatory cats roaming UK forests once again if lynx are released to the wild? Well, it appears they may already be here.
The last predatory big cats are thought to have become extinct in the UK a thousand plus years ago. Yet, since the 1700s, reports have appeared of them being spotted in various areas of the UK. The first recorded sighting was by William Cobbett in the early 1760’s. A cat the size of a medium sized spaniel (lynx?) was reported to have been sighted.
Reports continue to surface up to the present day, and most seem to relate to a larger than average domestic type cat, or a large black, panther type animal. The lynx, more than any other animal seems to have been mentioned by name. Over the years, a number of large cats have actually been shot by farmers or the police, yet all have eventually been traced to escapes from private collections, or abandoned pets.
A Eurasian lynx was shot in Norfolk in 1991 having killed 15 sheep (see above). Reports of big cats, pumas and leopards, having been shot or captured, have been confirmed the length of the UK. From Scotland to the Isle of Wight, off the south coast, the existence of these animals has been proved, with no real explanation of how they arrived, other than escapees. DNA testing on the carcasses of deer or sheep in areas of big cat sightings, have only revealed the DNA of foxes.
In 2001 a lynx was captured in Cricklewood, London. Handed over to London Zoo, its age was determined to be around 18 months. No explanation of where it came from was ever reported. Almost every area of the UK has had its own sightings of big cats at various times.
From the Scottish Cairngorms, to the Beast of Exmoor, Dartmoor, or Bodmin Moor in the West Country, every area appears to have its own big cat stories. Maybe introducing the European lynx to the Highlands of Scotland is not quite the ground breaking experiment we think it is.
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By Vassil (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Peter H. Wrege (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
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A British expat who has lived on this Island of Tenerife for over twelve years.A full time freelance writer, most of my time is spent article writing. I also write on D2C, Writedge, and wherever takes my fancy. For fun I try to increase my portfolio of short stories, with a view to eventually getting them published.