Last week I started a post with the title Lynx Hijinks with the aim of discussing the potential for the reintroduction of the Eurasian Lynx in the UK. In that post I probably didn’t spend any time on the Lynx itself but provided information related to the reintroduction of the Grey Wolf, a subject which seems to have more written about it. Thankfully today will be the day where I discuss some of the information being written in the news and also raise some of my own questions surrounding the issue.
The British Eurasian Lynx population is commonly thought to have gone extinct 4,000 years ago although it is now being commonly reported that this figure is in fact closer to 1,700 years ago. More recent carbon dating on a set of British Lynx remains suggest an even more recent extinction date of around 750 years ago. This extinction is thought to have been driven by decreasing prey numbers and shrinking forest habitats each as a result of human population expansion and development. In 2013, plans were put forward with the backing of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to reintroduce two breeding pairs of Eurasian Lynx from northern Europe. The northern European population is the closest genetic match to the population that occupied Britain and is therefore the most likely candidate for reintroduction. These 4 reintroduced animals would be fitted with GPS tracking collars allowing researchers to keep tabs on their location. With the addition of the ability to give each animal a sedative dose built into the collar the animals could easily be kept away from areas where their presence is undesirable or dangerous to them. Whilst this intensive management of the location of the animals becomes more difficult as the population grows it does in many ways go to show that care has been taken to avoid unnecessary friction between people and predator. Whilst I mention that this becomes more difficult with increasing numbers of animals it is predicted that only 250 animals could inhabit Scotland whilst a similar number could also occupy the north of England.
One of the major concerns expressed around the concept of reintroducing the Eurasian Lynx is the potential for damages to the livestock industry. Whilst the Eurasian Lynx favours forested habitats and tends to prey on small ungulates (hoofed animals) and other small prey items they have been known to occasionally take livestock like sheep. Whilst this eventuality is unfortunate for farmers the reality of the losses is often far removed from how we imagine it. Since the reintroduction of the Eurasian Lynx in Switzerland the Government pays around $35 million in subsidies to support the sheep farming industry whilst it only pays out around $7000 in livestock compensation. The compensation for losses is insignificantly small when compared with the level of Government investment necessary to keep the sheep farming industry viable.
On a more contentious note, the reintroduction of the Lynx may actually be relevant to the questions surrounding the potential reinstatement of Fox hunting. Foxes are undoubtedly benefiting from the lack of hunting, no doubt their ever increasing presence in urban areas and far bolder behaviour is partly down to far lower repressive efforts. Without any large predators the Fox is in a strange situation where it is as the top of the food chain. The British Fox is an organism occupying the position of alpha predator in a landscape where once its numbers were repressed by predation by Lynx and Wolves. As a result of this its behaviour is worlds away from its contemporaries in locations where larger predators are present, it is an organism that has little to fear from its environment and its behaviour is in accord with this.
Some other questions are worth considering when we consider the issue of whether or not to reintroduce the Lynx in Britain. First amongst these is the impact that the Lynx may have on the already critically endangered Scottish Wildcat. Questions relating to how the two species will interact where they come into contact with one another is going to have to be considered. If we cannot reintroduce the Lynx without causing significant damage potential to the Scottish Wildcat then perhaps we should not support a reintroduction. Similarly another question relates to the effects of the associated afforestation attributed to the reintroduction of any large predator in Scotland. Again, the effects of afforestation on those species requiring large cleared open areas to best survive. Any reintroduction is a far more complex issue than it seems at face value. Rather than being just a question of whether the environment can support the introduced organism in many cases the question of how that reintroduced organism will affect its new environment is much more important.
- Lynx Trust UK
- The Telegraph: Should we reintroduce the Lynx?
- The Telegraph: Wild Lynx to be brought back to British countryside