The Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx), once a native of Britain, became extinct from the Isles over 1300 years ago due to hunting and habitat destruction. Today conservationists are looking at reintroducing Lynx to the UK.

For many, the idea of big cats in Britain is not only believable but is in fact, reality. Sightings of such #Animals have been reported with surprising regularity. Some cases are easily explained, such as the ‘Essex Lion’ in 2012, later revealed to be an innocuous Maine Coone named ‘Teddy Bear’. Or the year before, when a police helicopter was deployed in Hampshire after calls about a white tiger which transpired to be a toy.

The most famous cases are the 'Beasts' of Exmoor and Bodmin Moor. Note the language is evocative; “beast” suggests a frightening,unidentified creature, the wording intending to cause fear.

In Exmoor during the 70's, over 80 sheep were found mutilated amid gossip that a panther-like creature had been spotted. Eventually, the hype became such that the Royal Marines were drafted in to search the area. They found nothing and concluded that foxes were to blame. However, this did nothing to quell the rumours of big cats in the vicinity and a second survey was carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1995 (the report also concluded there was no evidence of big cat activity).

As with Exmoor, stories in Bodmin led to the government spending £84,000 in the 90’s to discover what caused multiple sightings. When the Ministry released their findings, attributing all sightings to a large, domestic black cat, a boy found a big cat skull by the River Fowey. Later ests revealed that the skull was merely the remains of an imported leopard skin rug. Despite this, the stories continued and earlier this year, the media hype began again after new sightings occurred. This time, reports claimed a female lion was loose in Cornwall. Spotters said they had seen the large cat near the river before slinking away, leaving large footprints. Despite multiple sightings, there exists no photographic evidence - can we really believe that no one had the means to take a photo, even of the prints?

Of course, that isn’t to say that there have never been big cats loose in the UK. In 1980, a puma was caught in Inverness-shire, Scotland. Repeated sightings had been reported over a several years, leading to a cage trap being set up which subsequently caught the animal. The puma, named ‘Felicity’, was rehomed at the Highland Wildlife Park where it was noted that she showed domesticated behaviours, suggesting she had not been living wild for long. After she died, Felicity was put on display in the Inverness Museum, where she still remains.

Today, exotic animals must be accounted for via licencing, but this hasn’t always been the case. Many animals have escaped from captivity and are now wild. Ring necked parakeets are now a London staple and there are mobs of wallabies throughout the UK. Animals have either been released or lost from collections and there is no reason to believe that big cats would not have been amongst these. 

Those who believe that big cats are currently wild in the UK claim that such species are not seen since they are mysterious and are even evasive in their own native countries. So why is it sightings occur in clusters? Are the animals becoming more confident? Or is it simply over excitement; people mistaking a native animal for something more exotic? Until solid proof is obtained, it is hard to say what causes these ‘sightings’ and what is living wild. Many scientists argue food availability and climate mean that survival is impossible. However, with many non-native species finding themselves very comfortable here in the UK, is it possible that big cats, often top of the food chain, might be able to adapt to our environment?

NEXT TIME: WHY THE EURASIAN LYNX IS BEING CONSIDERED FOR REWILDLING AND WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN TO THE BRITISH COUNTRYSIDE. #rewilding #Nature