Recently, the news was full of attempts to recapture a lynx called Flaviu, which had escaped from Dartmoor Zoo by chewing its way out of a wooden shed. Flaviu managed three weeks on the run, living wild, and avoiding the efforts of trackers to recapture him. The trackers apparently went so far as to smear their feet with cow pats, to make their task easier. If it were me, and someone came after me with their feet smeared with cow pats, I’d also do my best not to let them catch me.
The principal concern, it seems, was that Flaviu wouldn’t survive in the wild, with a secondary concern that he might eat the occasional lamb. A month or so earlier, a Dalmatian pelican was wandering around Devon and Cornwall, but no one tried to catch it, even though it might not survive in the wild, or take the occasional trout. As far as I know, the Dalmatian pelican has never been endemic to Britain, unlike the Eurasian lynx, which was wiped out in the eighth century. Flaviu belongs to the Carpathian subspecies of the Eurasian Lynx, but my guess is that winters in the Carpathians are tougher than on Dartmoor. A cynic might conclude that the difference in attitude was down to the fact that the lynx ‘belonged’ to the zoo, whereas the pelican was just lost.
Conservationists frequently talk about ‘reintroducing’ lost species, such as the beaver, the red kite, the wolf, the Cornish chough, smallpox, the osprey, and the aurochs. Wildlife parks then maintain populations, so that when the time comes, there will actually be some animals to reintroduce. In the 1990s, a wildlife park in Cornwall was breeding choughs in an aviary, with a ‘view’ to reintroducing them into the wild, but when a couple of them escaped (into the wild), every attempt was made to catch them again. My father was most amused, and thought the wildlife park should get an award for hypocrisy. Something similar happened with beavers on the river Otter in Devon. However, history has a tendency to get rewritten. There are now choughs breeding in Cornwall, and the population of beavers on the river Otter is hailed as a success story.
The friend I was with when I saw the Dalmatian pelican said that the only thing it lacked in life here was ‘rumpy pumpy’. Maybe, instead of trying to recapture Flaviu, we should just have brought in a Mrs Flaviu, released her on Dartmoor, and let them get on with it. I expect the foxes and buzzards could spare them the odd lamb. Live and let go.