Report from Chris Smith
The suggestion that scores of big cats are roaming free in our countryside surfaced again recently. The argument goes that, as a result of the 1975 Dangerous Wild Animals Act, numerous big cats were set free and their descendants are still living and thriving among us.
But when the Act came into force 20 years ago, there were probably about 4 or five pumas and two black panthers - at most - in private hands.
Most of these animals die before they are 15, so any that were released would have died out long ago.
So anything exotic that is running around out there is likely to be of fairly recent origin.
If the animal has a long tail, the possibilities are limited to a puma or black leopard.
But if the creature has a short, almost non-existent tail, it could be a lynx.
They have been reintroduced to former habitats across Europe, either legally, with the support of conservation organisations, or illegally by animal idealists.
But lynx have never been known to attack humans, are very secretive, and all domestic livestock kills are fully compensated by the Government.
Finding lynx to release is no problem - many of the ones released in France were bred in UK wildlife parks.
If I wanted to, I'm sure I could buy six animals in this country within a week.
But judging from the photos of the pawprints in some newspapers recently, the animals involved were definately NOT big cats, but dogs. The protruding straight toe-nails were very clear in every print.
The Northern Lynx (Lynx lynx), was once a native of the greater part of Britain, and made one appearance in Scottish history, when it shared with Neolithic man the wilds of western Sutherlandshire. The bones found by Drs Peach and Horne in the Bone Cave of Allt nan Uamh near Inchnadamph, in deposits containing blackened and burnt hearthstones of Neolithic fires, vouch for its presence in the early days, but there is no written evidence of it. It seems to have died out in the far distant history of Scotland, though one can conjecture that in all probability man hastened its extermination in defence of his flocks."
© Glasgow Zoo, 2002
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