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 thay 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 hasa 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 paswprints in some newspapers
recently, the animals involved were definately NOT big cats,
but dogs. The protruding straight toe-nails were very clear in every
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.