Almost a fortnight past, Dartmoor Zoo was the location of a daring escape. One centred on Flaviu, a male Carpathian Lynx, and his successful break for freedom. Slipping off the shackles of his captivity mere hours after being transferred to the zoo from Kent and quickly melting away into the Devon countryside where he remains at large, despite the best efforts of the zoo staff trying to relocate him. And, of course, the less than savoury efforts of those seeking to dispatch him.
Eurasian Lynx – By Aconcagua (talk) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6358217
If you choose to discount the unconfirmed sightings of Lynx that have abounded in counties such as Northumberland over the past few decades, Flaviu is officially the first Lynx to reside in the UK since the species was extirpated in medieval times.The first Lynx to traverse our forests since humans carelessly hunted them into oblivion. His escape triggering delight among many conservationists, myself included, keen to see just how the big cat will take to life in modern day Britain. Alas, it would seem that we are not alone in this regard and the wider reaction to the escape has not been as negative as one might expect. Sure we have had to endure a few frustrating “beast” headlines and a handful of disheartening reports of people attempting to track down and kill the cat, but that is as far as the negativity goes. Both the staff of Dartmoor Zoo and the people of Devon appear altogether unphased by the big cat prowling in their midst. A promising outlook!
In the ten days since Flaviu escaped, not one human/lynx conflict has been reported, unsurprisingly. No sheep have been hauled off into the woods to die, no family pets have been eviscerated and certainly, no walkers have been mauled. Facts which it would seem, actively discredit the scaremongering of those opposed to Lynx reintroduction. The farmers, crofters and other individuals who have been oh so vocal in voicing their distress at the proposed scheme. It would seem that, for all intents and purposes, Flaviu has blended seamlessly into the ecosystem, with not one confirmed sighting since his initial disappearing act and certainly no unsavoury incidents.
So, not only are rewilding supporters correct to assume that Lynx are neither a public health hazard or a menace to livestock, but also correct in their assumption that they avoid human contact like the plague. Something the Lynx Trust have attempted to stress on multiple occasions and something which, it would seem, applies to all Lynx, both captive and wild. Flaviu, of course, hailing from captive stock – his wild counterparts likely even more elusive and thus even more likely to avoid humans.
While I do not intend to celebrate the misfortune of Dartmoor Zoo – losing a Lynx must surely come with its consequences – and fully suspect that Flaviu will be returned to the zoo at some point, I will freely admit that the prospect of a Lynx once again roaming the British Isles excites me. Perhaps I am being overly optimistic, but surely, with each day the animal spends in the wild absent “incident” we come one step closer to the prospect of an official reintroduction scheme. Surely, with each day that passes absent attacks on people or livestock, the arguments of those opposing such moves crumble further into obscurity. Flaviu has, through an exceptionally lucky escape, provided us with an unparalleled opportunity to study the impacts of the return of this iconic predator to our shores. And the impact such a presence will have on local people. Many of whom, so far at least, appear to have taken quite fondly to Flaviu.
While I suspect this particular Lynx will enjoy only a short-lived stint in the wild, I hope that this incident will go some way to rectifying the rampant misconceptions many hold about this endearing cat. It may still be a pipe dream, but perhaps, one day, people will look back on Flaviu as a pioneer of sorts. As the cat which aided in the realisation that Lynx are not a menace, nor a danger to livestock – rather a quintessential part of a healthy ecosystem. Their role in controlling the populations of prey species sorely required in the UK at present.
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