Tuesday, 2 June 2015

NEWSLINK: Is Britain Ready for the Return of the Big Cat?

Back in 2012, residents at a caravan park in the British countryside called the local authorities with an urgent concern: a lion was prowling through the woods and fields nearby. The police deployed two helicopters with infrared sensors and swept the woods, while handlers on the ground from a local zoo weeded through the forest, armed with tranquilizers. But the hunt fizzled out. What would later be known as the Essex Lion turned out to be a local woman’s pet, a big Maine Coon affectionately known as “Teddy Bear.”

Teddy Bear’s story taps into the oversized role big cats play in the British imagination. Back when the U.K. was more like Game of Thrones than Downton Abbey, the island was full of predators: wolves, bears, and yes, big cats. A seventh-century Welsh poem contains one of the last surviving historical British references to the lynx, a pointy-eared feline up to three-and-a-half feet long that was hunted to extinction on the island over 1300 years ago. Bears and wolves have gone the same route. These predators were instrumental in maintaining the natural world around them. They preyed on smaller mammals, animals that can throw off entire ecosystems when their populations are left unchecked. But in a modern twist, marrying conservation and inspiration, returning some of these large predators to Britain may become a reality within a decade. Riding on a “rewilding” wave that has been successful in places across the U.K. and Europe, conservation groups are advocating reintroducing the Eurasian lynx back to Britain.

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