On Boxing Day this year I met the only two lynx cats living in the UK, at Woodside Wildlife Park in Lincolnshire. Not much information was given about the animals aside from this quite shocking fact apart from a mention of the desire by some groups to see their reintroduction into Scotland. If only two lynx live in the UK, I assumed they must be quite severely endangered. The lynx were majestic looking creatures with clean fluffy fur. The way they carefully padded around the enclosure made them appear non-threatening, though I doubt considering a big cat as ‘cuddly’ would be a good idea, and their nature of carnivorous hunters would probably mean that would not be taken as a compliment.
Recognisable by their tufty ears, the lynx is undeniably regal looking. I found out some information about their population, and through this discovered that it is not unique to the UK that people want to see these cats reintroduced to the wild; many countries are now creating reintroduction programs, along with the UK. This species is protected by groups which have aided hopeful recovery from population lows, but supporting the regrowth of a species almost hunted to extinction in Europe entirely is not cheap. So why is this big cat so important?
Originally the cat was found from the UK through to China, their population now estimated at 50,000 worldwide – mainly inhabiting China and Russia. It is assumed its presence in the UK was eradicated way back between 500 and 700 AD. This makes its reintroduction seem slightly more unnatural, given how much the environment will have changed since these times. Lynx populations in Europe reached a low in the 1950s, with only 700 cats remaining. The reason the lynx disappeared from the wild in the UK was, of course, like many other endangered animals, because of us. They were hunted to extinction for their fur, their habitats were destroyed, in a cycle of mistreatment for monetary gain. Humans ey.
The ‘advantage’ of having these animals present in the wild is to “return a vital natural function to our ecology helping control numbers of deer and a variety of agricultural pest species whilst protecting forestry from deer damage caused by overpopulation”. As far as big cats go, I was right in thinking the lynx is non-threatening. They do not naturally present threat to humans, as they have a “solitary and secretive nature”, and like to spend their time undisturbed in the forest, making them the best lot for the job.
It is sad to think that the effort made to conserve and protect the species and spread the area in which lynx inhabit is essentially for human benefit, but the idea that we could see big cats like these wild in the UK again is kind of wonderful. I love the idea of going on a trip somewhere with the aim of seeing lynx in their own wild habitat. These big cats are native UK dwellers. They should be living their natural existence. We disturbed them in the first place, it’s only fair we make the effort to put this right.
Despite it having been over 2000 years since wild lynx inhabited the UK, reintroduction programs look hopeful, as they have succeeded in other European countries. these environments are perhaps easier to integrate new lynx into because the populations were not entirely forced out, but understanding the way the cats adapt to their surroundings, and where they will be able to act in their normal ‘wild’ way, will help conservationists and specialists identify successful methods of reintroduction to the UK.
Another important consequence could come about from the lynx being reintroduced, conserving and helping potentially disadvantaged small-scale rural and agricultural communities. Some successful and well managed programs in other European countries have constructed “whole new eco-friendly industries such as wildlife tourism around their presence, breathing new economic life into remote rural communities”. I studied geography at A level and I know how important it can be to support communities like these, who in turn support local rural areas, animals and the environment. Another cycle, but this time a really positive one.
In years to come I don’t just want the word lynx to bring to mind only mens aftershave… Known by ancient cultures around the world as the mysterious and elusive ‘Keeper of Secrets’, I believe this gentle creature is worth protecting. If we are the ones exerting our power over animals, harming species and destroying their habitats, we should also right our wrongs, and use our many tools to help endangered creatures and to bring new wild populations to the environments they never should have been forced out of; for the benefit of human communities, the environment and the animals themselves.
The Lynx UK Trust site gave me lots of new knowledge on these animals, they also have detailed information on plans for reintroduction into the UK, if anyone is interested: