A lynx that was discovered in a museum has been identified as the “Beast of Bodmin” from its time. This discovery provides evidence that large cats did in fact exist in Britain, although the legend of the Beast of Bodmin remains just that – a legend.
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For years, stories about big cats prowling the British countryside have been a regular occurrence during the “silly season.” Although most of these claims are disregarded as the work of crazy or imaginative individuals, researchers have recently discovered concrete proof that a large predatory feline, similar to the infamous Beast of Bodmin, roamed the area more than 100 years ago.
Deep within the vaults of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, a stuffed Canadian lynx dating back to the early 1900s has been discovered. This creature, twice the size of a domestic cat, was shot dead by a Devon landowner after it had killed two dogs. Researchers from Durham, Bristol, Southampton, and Aberystwyth universities believe that this animal is the earliest example of an “alien big cat” to be found in the British Isles. According to lead researcher Dr Ross Barnett of Durham University’s Department of Archaeology, “This Edwardian feral lynx provides concrete evidence that although rare, exotic felids have occasionally been part of British fauna for more than a century.” Dr Barnett believes that the lynx may have been part of a travelling menagerie, which were popular before zoos became more common. Analysis of the lynx’s teeth and plaque suggests that the animal was kept in captivity before being released.
At present, there is no proof that large felines are capable of reproducing in the wild in Great Britain. However, a species that is comparable to the Canadian Eurasian Lynx was once found in the UK before it perished in the 7th century. The study, which appeared in Historical Biology, refutes another prevalent myth concerning the big cat phenomenon in Britain. It has been suggested that these animals were all freed after the Wild Animals Act of 1976 was enacted, which prohibited the possession of exotic pets. According to co-author Dr. Darren Naish from the University of Southampton, it is probable that such creatures have escaped frequently throughout recent history. He added that numerous sightings of exotic big cats occurred prior to 1976, and this casts doubt on the notion that a single law passed in that year is responsible for all releases of these animals in the UK.
Sightings of large feline creatures are still occurring frequently. According to research conducted by the British Big Cat Society, there have been 2,123 sightings reported between April 2004 and July 2005, with the South West being the most common location for these sightings. Just last year, a couple vacationing near Clacton-on-Sea in Essex caused a major police search that involved firearms officers, thermal imaging equipment on a helicopter, and experts from Colchester Zoo, though the animal was never discovered. There was an investigation by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1995 into the Beast of Bodmin, where footprints and four suspected livestock kills were found, but it concluded that there was “no verifiable evidence” of a large cat running loose. However, more physical evidence arose in 1980 when a farmer in Aberdeenshire found Felicity the puma. In 1993, a leopard was reportedly killed while attacking chickens in the Isle of Wight.