Fact Check: was it right to kill Lilith the escaped lynx?

Lynx on the loose. Shutterstock

The safety of the public was paramount and therefore once the lynx had strayed over to a populated area of the community it was necessary to act decisively.

Statement from Ceredigion County Council on October 10, 2017.

An escaped lynx was recently destroyed by experts working on behalf of Ceredigion County Council in Wales after attempts to recapture it failed. Some people have responded angrily, arguing that officials should have tranquilised the animal rather than killing it. The council claimed it had done all it could and was left with no other option. So was there a way Lilith the lynx could have been saved?

Zoo animals all receive a danger category for their potential to cause serious harm. Animals such as tigers, lions, elephants, and lynx are classed as Category 1, the most dangerous animals, due to their natural behaviour and predatory way of life. Animals which may cause slight harm or injury are classified as Category 2, and those which are no threat to the public get classed as Category 3.

Within the UK, zoos are licenced by local authorities, who conduct inspections on a regular basis to ensure the health and safety of the animals, staff and the public that visit them. Safety from the animal enclosure side of things is always viewed to reduce the likelihood of the public getting in, and the animals getting out.

But zoos are home to some incredibly smart animals which are able to notice small gaps in the gates and doorways or when electric fencing may not be working efficiently. More often than not, animals that manage to escape their enclosures have noticed these holes before the keepers.

Zoos practice animal escape drills at least twice a year and in the event of an animal escape from its enclosure, these drills are put into practice and ensure the safety of every visitor and member of staff on site.

Every effort is usually made to recapture the animal but of course, it very much depends on the species. An animal such as a penguin for example would likely follow a trail of fish back into its enclosure and would not cause too much disruption. Some animals actually get quite scared when they realise that they are outside of their home and in a world that they do not know and make their own way back without much encouragement at all.

In the recent case of the lynx from Borth Wild Animal Kingdom, the animal not only managed to escape its enclosure, but the perimeter grounds of the zoo, too, which placed a lot more public at risk and with little control over the situation. The local authorities and police were notified and the zoo made every effort to recapture the lynx, reportedly including using traps and following it with a drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera.

Animal tranquilisation is always discussed but with any animal, including the lynx, there is no way of telling how the animal may react to this and if it may make the animal more aggressive or react in a way that is not expected. This could cause further harm and situations that are unable to be prepared for. The decision was finally made to humanely destroy the animal, as the potential risk to the public was too great. In this situation, there are not many options, and human life and safety has to be the highest priority.

Verdict

The council and local police made the right call. Human life has to come first. Every effort had been made to recapture the animal, and there was nothing more that could have been done.

Review

Dr Paul Rees, Senior Lecturer in Wildlife, University of Salford

The author of this fact check is right. The owners of Borth Wild Animal Kingdom had a legal obligation to prevent the escape of the lynx under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and the EU Zoos Directive. They failed to do this and then failed to recapture her. The local authority had no choice but to shoot the animal.

What’s more, releasing or allowing a non-native species into the wild is an offence under section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This law protects our native biodiversity.

Lynx are classified in the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice as category 1 (greater risk), that is “likely to cause serious injury or be a serious threat to life”. Although reports of attacks on humans by lynx appear to be rare, a pet lynx was reported to have attacked a woman who was feeding it in Atlanta in 2014.

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