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Flaviu the Lynx

Lynx

Wednesday July 6th 2016.
On the 6th of July 2016 Dartmoor Zoo took delivery of a 2 year-old Carpathian Lynx called Flaviu who had come from Port Lympne Wildlife Park in Kent. After making his grand entrance at 7.30 pm when he was placed in an existing pen which had previously been home to other lynx. The species Lynx lynx carpathicus originates from the Carpathian mountains of  Central Europe and are said to be the 3rd largest predator to be found in Europe. Could this lynx be a danger to humans? The Lynx UK Trust simply say this; “To see a lynx in the wild is the rarest of pleasures; that they haven’t smelt or heard you coming and already disappeared a small miracle. Tens of thousands of wild lynx in all kinds of places have failed to lay a single claw on the smallest child; that they have the ability to hurt us is irrelevant; no wild lynx has ever chosen to, and that should give us confidence to give them a chance to live alongside us again.”

Thursday July 7th 2016.
At about 10.00 am the keepers went to see how the lynx was settling in only to find that he had ‘done one’. He had managed this by chewing or clawing his way through a wall of his house after which he made for some nearby woodland. Once it was realised that a potentially dangerous wild animal was on the loose a well practiced escape protocol was initiated. I say a “well practiced escape protocol,” was initiated because in the July of 2007 a similar occurrence happened at the zoo when Parker the Wolf made off from captivity. Immediately the local police were informed who issued a warning to local residents urging them not to approach the animal but to dial 999 and report their sightings. It did not take long for such phone calls to come in and in the meantime search parties were organised and sent out. Initially a posse of around 30 zoo staff and volunteers searched the grounds of the zoo which at the time was closed just in case the lynx was at large within the grounds. It was soon established that Flaviu had wider travel aspirations and had managed to make off into the nearby farmland. This then meant that the search was widened with the addition of the police helicopter and drones. Further warnings were issued for folk to remain in their homes and schools to keep their children indoors. It was also reported that a local vet armed with a tranquilliser gun was also on hand should the lynx provide a chance shot, some of the zoo keepers were also similarly armed. Rather alarmingly the police also issued a statement saying: “Please rest assured, although shooting the lynx is a contingency should the need arise, this will be the very last resort and only if required to save human life.” Also joining the search team were members of the Devon contingency of the British Big Cats Society who recruited a specialist drone company to employ the use of a thermal imaging camera. A BBCS spokesman remarked that: “Eyes in the sky are really important to find the lynx- from historical evidence we think the cat is likely to head north. As the lynx was reared in captivity it is unlikely to act in a normal way. For instance, it would walk across the middle of a field rather than along a hedgerow as it wouldn’t understand the need to hide.” Other contingency plans included the setting of humane traps baited with Flaviu’s normal food. Later that afternoon the Lynx was spotted but soon made off again but as nightfall was fast approaching all hope of darting the beast began to fade. It was hoped that as the lynx was hungry the humane traps may have some success in its capture. The theory behind this being that as Flaviu was captive bred he would have no knowledge of how to hunt and would therefore be looking for some easily available food which the traps conveniently contained.

It did not take long for the jokers to appear, a parody account soon appeared on Twitter with many tweets supposedly from Flaviu which attracted several hundred posts and many hundreds of followers – see HERE. Some bright spark even taped a can of Lynx Deodorant to the Dartmoor Zoo road sign, in addition many photos appeared on social media of people holding such a can and saying they had found the Lynx.

Friday July 8th 2016.
Despite there having been 25 human traps set and the police helicopter using its thermal imaging capabilities good old Flaviu managed to evade capture overnight. However at about 3.00am one of the police drones picked up a heat signal on one of their thermal imaging cameras. The tiny white heat signature was said to be that of Flaviu who was making his way across farmland near to the zoo. Along with the human traps other contingency measures involved the setting up of a ‘human cordon’ of zoo staff and police, the idea being to ‘funnel’ the lynx back towards the zoo. There was a slight panic in the evening when a tearful woman telephoned the zoo saying that she had run the lynx over with her car on the A38 near Plympton. No don’t laugh, this could have been serious – when asked what the poor animal looked like she replied; “flat,” – priceless. Fortunately there were still sightings of Flaviu coming in at the same time so the lady was reassured she had not ‘flattened’ a lynx. The zoo also remained closed for the day as most of the staff were busy looking for the lynx.

Dear Mr. Monbiot, he of Rewilding Dartmoor fame, added his pennyworth to the proceedings by saying on Twitter; “I hope that one day lynx on Dartmoor will be considered entirely normal, they are completely unthreatening to people. Why spend thousands on helicopters to capture a beautiful native creature? Leave the Dartmoor lynx alone and why on earth have children been told to stay inside? Lynx are harmless to people!” Monbiot also suggested that the authorities were suffering from a bout of “biophobia“, – the avoidance or strong aversion to aspects of the natural world.

Saturday July 9th 2016.
It was reported that overnight more bait was placed in the traps and that the search had been scaled back in the hope that the lynx would be tempted into one of them. By this time the story of the elusive lynx had not only reached the local, national and global press but also most of the major television and radio news channels. By this time it was as if the public were cheering the animal on in his bid for freedom with most wishing he continued to evade capture.

Sunday July 10th 2016
Dartmoor zoo staff and volunteers mounted an early morning search aided by the use of night vision equipment, it was also discovered that some of the traps had been entered and their bait removed but with nor results of a capture. It was then decided that larger traps should be deployed, the zoo owner Benjamin Mee noted that; “We put two keepers in there yesterday and asked them to try and find their way out and they couldn’t. It’s a big enough cage that it won’t feel like a tunnel to the animal. He’ll be able to walk around and see the food inside, but he will have to go in to eat it.” In addition to the keepers, volunteers, police, big cat experts, a vet, dogs, a helicopter, drones, thermal imaging cameras and humane traps the deployment of wildlife camera traps was initiated and still the lynx managed to evade them all. An American lynx expert suggested that maybe as Flaviu had no experience of hunting food he could well make his way back to a previously known food source. In his case this would be the Port Lympne Wildlife Park in Kent which according to the AA Route Planner would be a journey of 265.8 miles should he decide to hitchhike.

Monday July 11th 2016.
The ‘Great Escape’ continued overnight with no reports of Flaviu’s capture so maybe one could say the little lynx has earned his freedom. One thing this incident has done is to put the Dartmoor Zoo in the spotlight, a Google search for ‘Flaviu Lynx’ will return 117 results, all from varying worldwide media sources. I would imagine if or when the lynx is recaptured he will become the star attraction for a while as curious visitors come to see the adventurous animal. Here are a few lynx facts provided by the Lynx Trust:

In the UK the lynx was probably hunted to extinction between 500 and 700 AD.
Depending on density of its prey their territories can range between 20 and 400 square kilometres, the whole of the Dartmoor National Park covers 954 square kilometres – do the maths.
Their preferred habitat is that of dense forests but they also like habitats with rocky outcrops – plenty of them on Dartmoor.
Lynx are active at dawn and dusk and spend the rest of the day hidden in dense undergrowth or other safe places of concealment.
The average length of a European lynx is between 80 – 130 cm and can reach up to 70 cm tall at the shoulder, their weight varies between 18 and 40 kg.
They are solitary animals except for the breeding season.
Females generally produce 2 – 3 kittens each year.
In the wild the lifespan of a lynx is roughly between 13 – 19 years.
Lynx are strict carnivores and eat between 1 and 2 kilograms of meat each day.
The tufts of hair on each ear are known to increase the hearing capacity of the lynx.
The lynx is protected under CITES and the Bern Convention.
It has been suggested that the old name for Great Links Tor was Lynx Tor as it was once a haunt of the animal.

Tuesday 12th July.
Still the search continued for Flaviu who by now was becoming very much a celebrity, not only was his popularity increasing in the social media but the little lynx had his own website along with several fake twitter accounts. The Dartmoor Zoo joined in the fun by having a conversation with Flaviu via Twitter tweets which was great because at least it proved he was still alive and kicking.

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Flaviu’s Website

The next addition to the search armoury were some loud speakers set up around the zoo, the intention being to play a recording of Flaviu’s mother in the hope that on hearing her voice he would return. I know if I had been on the loose for several days and I heard my mother calling the last thing I would do is go home for fear of severe reprisals. If this failed some of the mother’s bedding was placed in strategic spots, again to fool him into thinking mum was nearby. One gentleman from Hertfordshire started a petition calling on Ben Mee to return the lynx to his mother at Port Lympne, should you wish to sign the petition you can do so – HERE.

Wednesday 13th July.
Warnings had been issued by the police to would be David Attenboroughs who might have been tempted to go in search of the lynx in order to capture a photograph. One online newspaper even warned folk about attempting to take a ‘selfie’ with the lynx, well good luck with that one. This advise had been offered following the police apprehending a photographer who was on adjacent private land trying to capture a shot of the lynx. The zoo’s owner commented that; “Some idiot with a big camera was trying to take pictures from private land. Two farmers called us and the police and the bloke has been cautioned.” A statement from the police warned that such behaviour ran the risk of scaring the animal which then could result in him moving on further away from the search area.

The expert marksman and tracker involved in the hunt has said that he would get only one shot to tranquillise the lynx and then Flaviu might hear the dart coming and be able to dodge it. However the good news is that he has found some flattened grass which may well be a temporary lair that the lynx is using? The zoo’s owner also announced that the search team had been reduced from 35 to just 4 members and that hopefully Flaviu was watching the team baiting the humane traps and then associate them with food making capture a lot easier.

I now have a painful confession, despite the warnings I did take a ‘stroll’ yesterday evening. Working on the wise words of the lynx expert insomuch as Flaviu may well be working his way back east to his old home I had a mooch around Storridge Wood which lives to the east of the zoo. Unfortunately I can now exclusively report that indeed that is where the lynx is holed up. As you can see below I did manage to get a photograph of him slinking away from me and apologies for the congealed blood stains. These were the result of injuries sustained on my initial contact with the beast and although they are deep lacerations I’m told the scars will heal. But just look at the expression on his face, does not that emphatically say; “there, stitch that lot, now just leave me alone,”?

Thursday 14th July.
Day six and the little lynx is still AWOL and the effect of his absence took an unexpected turn for a local couple from Sparkwell who had intended to hold their wedding at the zoo.  Having spent £5,000 on a wedding marquee for their reception they were initially told by the zoo that it would have to be cancelled. The main reason being a major concern for the guests safety should Flaviu decide he would like to join in with the celebrations. Originally they were offered the opportunity to transfer the reception to the zoo’s restaurant where the reception could be held. However after negotiations with the South Hams District Council Licensing team it was decided the couple could go ahead with their original plans. The two conditions were that extra security staff should be brought in and that the noise level of the party should be kept to a minimum and the music played at a low level. Presumably because all the previous measure for attracting the lynx back to the zoo were still in place the last thing the zoo wanted would be for it to be scared off by ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ booming out across the grounds.

The latest theory was that maybe as Flaviu was reaching sexual maturity he could well be searching for a mate in what was their normal mating season. The head keeper commented that due to this he may not be missing his mother. In which case why on earth did the zoo previously think recordings of Flaviu’s mum and piles of her bedding would attract the animal back to the zoo? One may be forgiven for thinking that they haven’t a clue what to do and are trying everything in desperation. In an effort to aid the lynx’s capture the Sun newspaper sent someone dressed in a big cat onesie, liberally doused in Lynx deodorant to prowl around the field and woods around the zoo. The idea being that maybe Flaviu just might be tempted to give their ‘honey trap’ a good seeing to.  I wonder how much that bloke got paid for making a complete muppet of himself? Their corny headline for this article was; “Nudge, Nudge, Lynx, Lynx.”

Friday 15th July.
Still no sign of the absconder although a local do walker came across a dead sheep near to the zoo, apparently there was an open wound on its neck the cause of which was said to be uncertain. The zoo are investigating the matter but think the sheep was unlikely to have been killed by Flaviu. A local farmer later said the sheep had been dead for 10 days and that he had not removed it for fear of scaring the lynx away. Once again camera traps were set but despite their being signs of the baited food being taken there has been no new sightings for two days. Despite previous reports of the mother’s bedding being strewn around the area the zoo announced that it was due for delivery yesterday and that staff at Port Lympne Wildlife Park were trawling through video footage of her in an attempt to record her voice. Again earlier reports saying the recordings were being played seem somewhat misleading. The latest initiative to be used in the capture of the lynx is a cordon of dung from larger big cats such as lions, tigers, etc. The theory behind this being that the strong scent pheromones in the droppings would fool the animal into thinking that there were bigger predators in the area and it would not venture outside of the cordon. Amazingly the zoo have first to get permission from DEFRA before spreading such ‘potentially’ harmful matter as it could spread disease?

Now then, the next idea expands on an original one – build a wooden den-like box and fill it with his mother’s bedding and scent whilst playing “comforting” sounds as in his mother’s voice. More worrying the zoo has received reports that some people have been seen in the area toting rifles, presumably with the idea of bagging him as a trophy. Amongst the many visitors, camera crews and journalists trying to spot the lynx was one man armed with a divining rod who stated that God had told him where to find Flaviu – good luck with that one then.

Saturday 16th July.
All quiet on the Sparkwell front, still no sign of ‘The Return of the Lynx’ and the next initiative is to build a huge mesh cage which is surrounded by a wooden frame on top of which sits a camouflage net. The idea being that it, along with the tempting meat bait placed inside, may fool the beast into thinking its an enclosure that its used to living in . I have a feeling that some of the media reports are a wind-up on the zoo’s part. The Sun reported that the zoo were thinking of hiring a voice specialist that can call via a megaphone to the lynx in a Kentish accent. Apparently the reasoning being that the animal was brought up by keepers with such an accent?

Sunday 17th July.
Not a lot to report, still the lynx is on the run with no sign of capture. Once again the police had issued warnings to the public about staying away from the area, this comes after a report that a professional hunter had been spotted with a dog and gun.

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The Missing ‘Lynx’

Monday 18th July.
It appears that somebody in Horrabridge spotted the lynx on Friday night, which means Flaviu has wandered about 12 miles from the zoo and is only about 5km from the open moor.  The sighting came about 1.30am in the resident’s garden. Apparently the ‘lynx’ was making weird “child-like yelping” noises which set the local dogs barking. If the sighting was correct it means that the beast is not quite where the experts think him to be.

Tuesday 19th July.
Still all quiet on the western front, still there are fears of hunters looking for selfies of a dead lynx or selfies with a live lynx. In Hertfordshire a petition has been launched and gained over 700 supporters. Its aim was to complain that Flaviu had been taken away from his mum far too early and should have been left where he was.

Wednesday 20th July
If I had said  two weeks ago that there would be two separate events; namely the escape of a little lynx and the advent of a world-wide phenomenon called PokemonGo that would become inextricably lynxed together nobody would believe me. But it has happened, today it was reported that a travel app which maps global sightings of PokemonGo characters has refused to cover the area around the Dartmoor Zoo. The reason here being that Pokemon gamers may be so wrapped up in looking at their mobile screen whilst searching for the elusive characters that they may come across equally elusive Flaviu the lynx. According to the apps manufacturers there was also the danger of coming across the trophy hunters and walk into the line of fire. Nice bit of free advertising for the app people.
Uh ho, some news just come in, one of the camera traps has captured a shot of Flaviu which one might say is good news as it shows he has caught some prey and therefore has proven he can be re-wilded. Unfortunately, according to experts the prey he caught was ‘Pidgey’ the PokemonGo character who apparently is rather rare? At least this proves that when the Flaviu saga is over the app makers can switch on their PokemonGo global sighting thingy as they sure as hell are Pokemon collectables around the zoo. Just amazed that the so-called professional trackers haven’t found one yet and taken a selfie?

Lynx8
Pidgey for dinner – hmmm

Thursday 21st July.
Hardly any mention of Flaviu in the media but what did make the headlines was the admission that in the 1980s three pumas were re-wilded from the zoo. It was suggested that three generations of these pumas lived in and around Dartmoor thus giving credence to the many sightings of ‘The Beast of Dartmoor‘. Since 2010 these sightings have stopped leading to the theory that the cold winter of that year killed them off. Why on earth the zoo’s previous owners would want to purposefully release such animals is anybodies guess? Interestingly enough in 2008 I was sent some photographs showing what I am certain was a puma on Longaford Tor as can be seen below.

Beast of Dartmoor

Friday 22nd July.
Despite all the measures, ideas and theories Flaviu is still on vacation. The latest development is that the Dartmoor Zoo are appealing for £5,000 in order to 30 more camera traps. These will be deployed to further assist in the search and also act as a deterrent for anyone thinking of entering the secure zone. If and when the lynx is captured the cameras will be re-used in other conservation projects or be stored until the next escapee decides to venture forth from the zoo.

Flaviu Fact – The name Flaviu comes from the Romanian version of  the Roman name ‘Flavius’ which means ‘golden’ or ‘fair haired’.

A policeman in Plymouth stops a man in a car with a lynx that looks very much like Flaviu in the front seat. “What are you doing with that lynx?” He exclaimed, “You must take it back to the Dartmoor Zoo.” The following week, the same policeman sees the same man with the lynx again in the front seat, with both of them wearing sunglasses. The policeman pulls him over. “I thought I told you to take that lynx back to the Dartmoor Zoo!” The man replied, “I did. We had such a good time we are going to the beach this weekend!”

Hairdressers around the country are being inundated with requests for the latest hair style – the ‘Flaviu Flick’

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The ‘Flaviu Flick’

Saturday 23rd July.
The Dartmoor Zoo have recruited the services of an expert predator tracker who according to the Sun newspaper goes under the name of ‘Arnie’ after the Arnold Schwarzenegger film character. Apparently the zoo staff have been given various predator tracking tips such as rubbing cow dung on the soles of their footwear to disguise the human scent. It is also feared that the lynx is beginning to roam over a much wider area than previously thought. An animal expert from Exeter University has also suggested that there was a danger that the lynx could encounter another big cat such as the pumas that were released in the 1980s. She also noted that if this should happen then there is also the possibility that they could mate and produce offspring – would that mean their babies would be ‘punx’?

Lynx10
Arnie the Predator Tracker

Tuesday 26th July.
It was reported that on the 17th of July the Civil Unrest website posted a piece claiming that Flaviu had been shot dead by a local farmer. They claim that an anonymous statement from the farmer read: “We do not care for wild cats round these parts and especially ones that will harm our livestock. The lynx wandered onto our land and we finished him off with some nice shotgun action. We are now waiting for the local authority to come and collect the carcass.” The response form the Dartmoor Zoo was that it was a; “horrible,” thing to do and that there had been evidence from the previous night that the little lynx was alive and well.

Friday 29th July.
The focus has now switched to the question of who released the three pumas which has resulted in a war of words between the current owner of the Dartmoor Zoo and its previous incumbents. The Daw family are denying ever having released the pumas and have accused Mr. Mee of destroying their legacy with such accusations. It was also suggested that the revelation of the pumas being released was a smoke screen in order to detract from the current adventures of the escaped lynx. This story then takes another twist as one report alleged that it was in fact Mary Chipperfield the famous circus owner who released them. Apparently in 1978 her zoo in Plymouth shut down and it was agreed that the Daws would home five of her pumas but when the animals were delivered to the Dartmoor Zoo only two turned up. This then led to the speculation that somewhere between Plymouth and Sparkwell the three missing pumas were released into the wild.

Saturday 30th July.
They think it’s all over, it is now – at 8.11am the Devon and Cornwall police reported that Flaviu had been recaptured and was safely back at the Dartmoor Zoo. It appears that the ‘Predator’ had used his skills to correctly bait a trap just to the west of Hemerdon Plantation into which the lynx was lured. To avoid any further embarrassment the lynx is temporarily homed in a maximum security enclosure until his own pen can be made escape proof. Apparently the little lynx was said to be “grumpy” after his return to the zoo, well no shit Sherlock, who can blame him. As can be seen from the map below he was not far from the zoo when caught. The sad thing was that if he had gone roughly the same distance in an easterly direction he would have been very close to the open moor and that would have been a different story.

Lynx11
Flaviu’s Demise

The zoo have also reported that they now intend to find Flaviu a mate in the hope that she can keep him happy enough at home thus preventing any further ‘nights on the tiles’. So all in all the little fellow was on the loose for 23 days, something even Steve McQueen would have been proud of. It would be interesting to know the true cost of his capture both in man hours, flight time, equipment expenses and the zoo’s reputation. I would imagine that for a while there will be an influx of visitors to the zoo who all want to see the elusive lynx which will contribute to any incurred expenses.

Postscript.
The Big Cat Society are calling for all large and exotic cats to be micro-chipped with GPS tracking devices which they say will make re-capturing any future escapees much easier. The founder of the Big Cat Society stated that; “If Flaviu the Carpathian lynx had been micro-chipped with a GPS trackable implant, then it would have been probably caught within 23 hours and not 23 days.”  He also made the point that now all domestic dogs  have to be micro-chipped and registered on a governmental database so why not potentially dangerous zoo animals? However the owner of the Dartmoor Zoo disagreed saying that “the current GPS tracking devices used on big cats in the wild would be an ‘encumbrance’ for animals in a zoo, I think it’s uncomfortable and unsightly for the animal, and a health risk.” Maybe with the zoo’s past record of animals going AWOL it may be a brilliant idea?

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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