Report from Chris Smith
WILDLIFE campaigners have threatened to release lynxes illegally across Scotland by the end of the week, if the parliament passes a bill today banning fox-hunting.
The activists are part of a group associated with the Wild Beasts Trust, which wants to re-introduce ScotlandŐs recently extinct mammals. The group claims the lynxes will help to control the fox population if hunting is banned. They plan to release three European lynxes in the Borders, three in Galloway and six near the 30,000-acre Balnagowan Castle estate in Easter Ross, belonging to Mohamed al-Fayed.
Animal welfare groups, the police and the executive criticised the plan as a hazardous publicity stunt which would be against the law. Lynxes are covered by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, which requires potentially dangerous animals to be licensed and kept in captivity.
The Wild Beasts Trust has conceded that the animals - understood to have been bought in France - could be a threat to livestock if released, but claims the wild lynxes of France and Spain choose foxes, rabbits and voles as prey.
David Gillies, a solicitor and member of the group, said: "The law has not really been tested and we do not intend to leave any fingerprints. My guess is the beasts will probably go unseen for many years. They will retreat on the slightest hint of human presence."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish executive said the release of the lynxes would be illegal under Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, adding: "This is an ill-informed move by individuals who seem to care neither for the countryside nor the welfare of the animals."
Sarah Roe, a spokeswoman for Scottish Natural Heritage, said that, apart from being illegal, the threat made by the wildlife extremist group was "very irresponsible". She said there were no official plans to re-introduce dangerous predators such as the lynx.
The wildlife group said it had been holding six lynxes on a property in the Borders since Christmas. Chris Campbell, a member of the group , said the decision to release lynxes illegally was first discussed in 1996.
He added: "We realised that going through official procedures would take 40 years of consultations and that the farming lobbies would probably block any introduction."
Les Ward, the director of Advocates for Animals, said: "There are about 20,000 foxes killed in Scotland every year and only about 400 die as a result of mounted fox hunts. It is just a load of nonsense."
THE lynx is one of several mammals that the Wild Beasts Trust would like to see re-introduced in Scotland.
Peter Clarke, a member of the trust, said that if the lynx prospers, other species could be re-introduced: "Our shopping list includes the walrus, brown bear, lemming, wolf, elk, boar, wolverine and bison. Restored to our mountains, they will change the soul of ScotlandŐs wilderness areas.
"We need to reconstitute the landscape that predates farming."
Scottish Natural Heritage has already applied for a licence to bring beavers back to Scotland, which is being considered by the Scottish executive.
© Scotsman, 13 th February 2002
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