The legalised lynching of Lillith the lynx

By all means read this post, but insofar as it is critical of Andrew Venables, it is wrong.  Please read this update which sets the record straight. It is in fact rather a good example of rushing to judgement without appreciating the full facts. I am leaving it up here, partly as an example of how dangerous it is to leap to conclusions on the basis of inaccurate evidence, and partly because despite the inaccuracies about the shooting, there is still a good case for lynxes to be reintroduced into the British countryside.

What a sad tale it is of Lillith the baby [“juvenile” would be a more accurate word] Eurasian lynx, shot and killed in an Aberystwyth caravan park last Thursday. Ceredigion Council, who took the decision to kill the escaped animal on the grounds of “public safety,” had a good chance to capture her alive when she was spotted sleeping under an unoccupied caravan. According to Lillith’s owner Tracy Tweedy she could have been caught there and then, had it not been for a bungling council official who seems to have been over-concerned to follow the somewhat impractical official protocol for dealing with a sleeping lynx:

The caravan was boarded in on three sides with decking and all we had to do was sling a net across the back and we would have had her trapped. Unfortunately, one of the officials insisted that he needed to photograph her and make a positive ID before we were allowed close. He slipped and fell going up the bank which startled her causing her to run past him and off across the fields.”

The Council then gave the job to “a team of local marksmen.” It cannot be often that these Cambrian Rambos are called upon to do anything important, and Andrew Venables, the owner of a local gun training school WMS Firearms Training was quick to defend the decision to slay Lillith, and was quoted [inaccurately] as saying:

The animal was found in a caravan park, where tourism is vital, and the possibility of a darting response was never explored. It was further complicated by the dark, since it was a night-time operation.”

Were there really any mid-November tourists cowering in their caravans, terrified to come out and spend their money because of the infinitesimal risk that they might be attacked by a lynx? My guess is that a west Wales campsite in November is about as dead and empty as a holiday resort can be. [Update: Yes, there were people there]

Anyway, I think “a darting response” is the bureaucratic term for shooting a lynx with a tranquillising dart in order to capture rather than kill it, and if Mr Venables is right then it is a great shame that that “response” was not explored. [In fact there was a great deal of consideration given to tranquillising Lillith but for sound reasons it was decided that it could not be done safely] It sounds as though these mysterious men – I’m going to assume they were all men – who happily volunteer to kill a beautiful young lynx rather than try to creep close enough to tranquillise it, must know instinctively that they lack either the necessary skill or courage. They may think of themselves as the heirs to Owain Glyndwr but they’re probably just fat men with ear protectors skulking behind caravans.

I was asked yesterday whether any criminal offence was committed by the Council. Sadly, the answer is almost certainly not. A captive lynx is a “protected animal” within the Animal Welfare Act 2006 but it probably loses that status once it has escaped. Even if it does not, the Act only protects animals from “unnecessary suffering.” Despite Mr Venables’s gung-ho assertion that no consideration was given to tranquillising it, a prosecution for causing “unnecessary” suffering is surely doomed to fail. In deciding whether an animal’s suffering is “unnecessary” a court is required to take into account whether the suffering was for a legitimate purpose such as “protecting a person, property or another animal.” What is more, S.4 (4) provides:

Nothing in this section applies to the destruction of an animal in an appropriate and humane manner.”

The ghastly word “appropriate” could have been designed to protect councillors worried about tourism or sheep deaths. According to a Council spokesman, demonstrating an attitude as cowardly as it was vainglorious, the risk to the public had “increased from moderate to severe” after the lynx strayed into the caravan park and they felt they “had to act decisively.” It is also true that there had been complaints from local farmers that their sheep had been attacked, although it is unclear whether this was by Lillith or by dogs.

Once it had escaped, the lynx remained legally the property of its owner, the Borth Wild Animal Kingdom (“The Little Zoo with the Big Heart”), run by Mr and Mrs Tweedy. Mr Tweedy, described himself as “devastated emotionally and physically” by the killing. He had spent three weeks trying to capture Lillith, even going so far as to employ a drone with thermal imaging equipment, and had hoped that she could have been tranquillised. In theory, anyone killing somebody else’s animal can be guilty of criminal damage. In practice, the Council would have little difficulty in demonstrating a “lawful authority” for the shooting. Under S.5 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 merely by showing that it “honestly believed” the lynx had to be destroyed “to protect property belonging to … another.” Given that local sheep farmers had complained – possibly mistakenly – that Lillith had killed their sheep, there is no way that the charge would stick. Subsection (3) is clear: “it is immaterial whether a belief is justified or not if it is honestly held.”

Just because killing Lillith was not criminal does not mean that it was the right thing to do. The lynx is native to Wales, although Owain Glyndwr would never have seen one because it was hunted to extinction by Mr Venables’s dark age ancestors. Lynxes remain relatively widely distributed in Asia and isolated populations totalling about 10,000 remain in Central and Eastern Europe. It may also still live in the Pyrenees, and it has been successfully reintroduced to Switzerland and parts of Eastern France, where it is thought that around 500 now live in the Vosges and the Jura.

There have been no reports of campers or caravanners being attacked in the areas where lynxes have been reintroduced, and while there have certainly been attacks on sheep, farmers have adapted and been able to carry on without any insuperable problems. All the evidence is that most lynxes prefer venison above all other food. One Swiss study found that each lynx kills on average just one sheep every two and a half years, and it is has even been plausibly suggested that by killing the occasional fox, now legally protected from hunting, lynxes could actually provide sheep with some protection. Fortunately, lynxes also sometimes eat badgers and if they could be persuaded to kill a few of the over-protected and often tubercular badgers that really do cause financial damage to farmers, that could be another bonus to agriculture, albeit probably a rather modest one.

Rather than calling out the Ceredigion musketry, the successful reintroductions in France and Switzerland ought to have prompted the Council into an entirely different response. They should have looked to acquire some more lynxes and released them as well. Plans are well under way to re-introduce lynxes into Northumberland, Norfolk and the Lake District, and the wild hills of the Ystwyth Forest would also provide a perfect habitat to re-establish a breeding population. Far from frightening away tourists it is confidently expected that the small chance of a sighting of one of these magnificent but shy animals in its natural habitat will attract tourists rather than frighten them away.

Ystwyth Forest

It may be true, as the Lynx Trust rather sniffily says, that an escaped lynx is likely to behave differently from a wild born lynx; but that is not to say that Lillith could not have adapted perfectly well to freedom, if she had been given the chance. Escaped mink rapidly established themselves in the wild, as (more happily) have the escaped Devon beavers now breeding, rather confusingly, in the River Otter. Indeed one delicacy that lynxes would certainly enjoy would be the non-native Muntjac deer, a species that has spread over most of the south of England and Wales after a pair escaped from the Woburn estate in the early 20th century.

When wolves were reintroduced into the Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s, 70 years after being hunted to local extinction, the effects were dramatic: elks once again had a predator, so their numbers fell, which led to an increase in willow growth, which led to more food for beavers, which led to more dams which not only reduced flash floods but also produced shady pools for fish. The reintroduction of a key predator produced a “cascade” of benefits for the whole ecosystem.

There is every reason to think that a few hundred lynxes roaming the Welsh countryside would produce similar ecological benefits. We are willing to accept the risk that lethal weapons – like the “338 Lapua Magnum Steel Core Cyclone rifle” a long range rifle on the use of which Mr Venables provides tuition – might fall into the wrong hands [extremely unlikely given the police approved security in place]. We should be prepared to accept the far lower risk, posed by the reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx.

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

13 thoughts on “The legalised lynching of Lillith the lynx”

  1. The very important officials and the dumclucks that pulled the triggers (whom the very important officials despise); will all be sat in cosy ranks, with precious children and grandchildren, rightly enchanted by Attenborough’s latest insight into our incomprehensibly sophisticated and achingly beautiful planet. As ever we see more and more, but understand less and less,

  2. An excellent article Matthew but surely this highlights the illusion of animal protection by the RSPCA? You say the Lynx’s owner wouldn’t stand much of a chance in court bringing a prosecution but the weight of the RSPCA would. Why aren’t they getting involved to stop mistakes like this happening in future? Let’s see:

    The RSPCA has for many years attempted with increasing frequency, to try to give credence to the fact that there are ‘mysterious mutilations of animals’ in some imagined conspiracy of twisted animal abusers. The latest went out on primetime tv last week. Here’s an overview:

    What has been gleefully termed by the Media the ‘Croydon Cat Killer’ or the’ M25 Cat Killer’ or the ‘UK Cat Killer’. is a sub-set of the Satanic Ritual Child Abuse Myth and the history of it is outlined by the SAFF here:

    All one needs to do is to google ‘cats being mutilated and killed ‘ to find thousands of examples. Indeed one featured as ‘proof’ of SRA in Geoffrey Dickens ‘dossier’ sent to the Home Secretary during the 1990 satan scare! That was perhaps the first asserted link twixt animal mutilation and baby mutilation.

    The point is that cats are unfortunately regularly found dead and mutilated, mostly by dogs, sometimes by sickos who hate cats. It may be shocking for those billions of people who adore cats on the internet but there are people who absolutely do hate them and dogs like to eat cats. However to turn the regular instance of cat corpses into a conspiracy of a ‘Cat Ripper’ just shows how infantilised this generation has become on tales of Paddington Bear and Jemima Puddleduck, when their parents should have moved them on to read about ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’.

    There are two ironies in your piece. The first is that, if Lynxes were ‘naturalised’ in Britain there is no doubt that they would thrive by eating , amongst other animals, the domestic cat. Secondly, the most notable cat lovers in history are of course the Ancient Egyptians and later Witches, along with their broomsticks, who some in the RSPCA think are actually killing and mutilating moggies! Go figure how stupid the human brain can be.

    Scare 1: Kids are being abused and sacrificed to Satan by nutters.
    Scare 2: Cats are being abused and sacrificed to Satan by nutters.

    Spot the similarity?

    Tony Rhodes

  3. I’m all for a few let loose in the Forest of Dean. We have lots of deer. In fact a pack of wolves would do nicely to reduce our feral boar (the 4 legged ones not those from S Africa ). I’m also for action against the domestic cat which are killing far too many birds and rodents.

    As for badgers…I read a recent study pointing to the dangers of TB being introduced into the badger population from infected cattle slurry spread on fields. Apparently such waste can carry the infection for at least a year.. It seems that it us not only infected badgers that need culling but also farmers with poor practices

  4. Years ago I was a PhD student at Aberystwyth University. Whilst writing up, I was living in a bedsit very close to Borth, so know the area quite well. Borth is very much a schizophrenic community; there is Borth the holiday resort much favoured by the good folk of Birmingham because it is nicer than Birmingham (so is a nuclear waste dump, mind you), and Borth the small insular Welsh village that remains when the brummies depart.

    Borth started out as a tiny hamlet by the mouth of the river Leri; this was canalised and made to exit into the Dyfi river a couple of hundred years ago. Borth is now that same hamlet, with a main street along the shingle bank and road that leads north towards the Dyfi estuary, just inland of this is the main local railway line. The zoo is sandwiched between the modern course of the Leri (beyond which is Borth Bog, miles and miles of it) and the long strip of housing that constitutes modern Borth, and is atop a small rise in the land there making it drier than the normal soggy maritime dankness of Borth. In the hinterlands between are also several very large static caravan parks.

    Borth in winter has a tiny population. All the caravan parks are both empty and locked up; theft from privately owned static vans is a minor local problem. At the moment that lynx would have found the caravan parks to be very hospitable indeed simply because there would be absolutely nobody there at all. By the looks of things, the lynx seems to have headed north away from the zoo, into the hinterlands between Borth and the Dyfi estuary; barring a spot of sheep-killing there would be little mischief it could get up to in this area.

    There are (or were) quite a few rabbits in this area as well, ineptly poached whilst I was there by some of the most incompetent and least covert lampers I have ever seen; if one is out with dog and lamp one does not wave a light beam about in the sky unless one is very, very certain that neither police nor landowner give a hoot about the bunnies or the trespass, and indeed this was so.

    That lynx could have been caught fairly easily, with only limited difficulty. That a latter day Welsh Rambo felt the need to shoot it only shows the incompetence of modern councils. That the lynx enclosure was not more secure is also a failing of both the zoo and of the council for not inspecting properly, but that’s another whinge.

  5. I have been a resident of Borth for five years and I have lived Ceredigion area for 35 years. I am very upset by the wanton destruction of this beautiful creature that posed no threat to the public. The councils action was disgraceful. I think that armed persons prowling a caravan park at night time in bearing lethal firearms live ammunition and firing live rounds in the dark posed a much greater potential threat to the public than the Lynx. Who did the risk assessment for that I wonder.? I don’t know if Lillith killed any live stock but surely the answer, should it have been subsequently proved, would have been to compensate the farmers. Compared to the cost of mounting this “operation”, the ludicrous flying about of the police helicopter at a cost of hundreds of pounds per minute, it would have been a very cheap option. Unfortunately in this part of the “wild west” the ‘hambon’ deliverance mentality lives on and nowhere is is more evident than in the parochial vision of this rotten backward looking council.

  6. I have been a resident of Borth for five years and I have lived Ceredigion area for 35 years. I am very upset by the wanton destruction of this beautiful creature that posed no threat to the public. The councils action was disgraceful. I think that armed persons prowling a caravan park at night time bearing lethal firearms, live ammunition and firing live rounds in the dark posed a much greater potential threat to the public than the Lynx. Who did the risk assessment for that I wonder.? I don’t know if Lillith killed any live stock but surely the answer, should it have been subsequently proved, would have been to compensate the farmers. Compared to the cost of mounting this “operation”, the ludicrous flying about of the police helicopter at a cost of hundreds of pounds per minute, it would have been a very cheap option. Unfortunately in this part of the “wild west” the ‘hambon’ deliverance mentality lives on and nowhere is it more evident than in the parochial vision of this rotten backward looking council.

  7. I understand the zoo at the centre of this accidentally killed another lynx recently. One escaped lynx then unnecessarily killed plus a second killed in captivity??? I hope the RSPCA will do their stuff when this establishment comes up for a renewal of its licence!

  8. That they didn’t even think of using a dart suggests that they lack so much imagination that they are not fit to be let out on their own.

    A creature that likes venison and will hunt badgers, foxes, and rabbits should be encouraged, not killed. If it also ate local councillors that would be even better.

  9. To address some of the issues on this post;

    1. It is quite incredible that a qualified barrister can fill so much content with what amounts to conjecture, particularly in relation to casting aspersions about the person contracted to shoot the lynx.

    2. The lynx had been loose for some time, and, being an escaped predator, could not be allowed to roam free, due to the threat posed to livestock, pets and potentially people. This story is not about an animal raised in the wild, but an animal escaped from a zoo. If there was any incident involving the animal, the zoo owners would be liable and their PII would not cover animals previously in their care being set free.

    3. WMS Firearms had a pre-existing relationship with the zoo, and had provided all of their firearms training, which all zoos must have to cater for situations involving the escape of dangerous animals.

    4. A Darting Response is the professional terminology. In fact this had been offered to the zoo several times during the period the animal was at large, but was not taken up, hence the comment about not being considered. This was because the zoo wanted to continue to try and trap the lynx. The difficulty with a response of this kind is that the effect of the sedative in the dart is not immediate, so any darted animal will run on being darted. This isn’t a problem if the animal is in an enclosed environment, or in countryside where it can be tracked. In an urban environment, there is a real danger that the darted animal will run and hide, and not be found. After the sedative wears off, the animal will recover, still be loose and will perceive humans as an even greater threat, which makes the likelihood of capture even less.

    5. By the time WMS Firearms were called in, a significant period during which live capture had been attempted and darting offered had elapsed. The council made a decision, following significant consultation with a range of experts including the Police and the Royal College of Veterinarians, that the animal should be killed. To blame WMS Firearms for carrying out a service professionally, or to suggest the foremost firearms trainers in the country are dangerous is outrageous.

    6. It is amazing that the owners of the zoo are being taken at their word, when all they have demonstrated throughout the whole process is gross incompetence. A second lynx has died after an attempt was made to move it to another enclosure. This point is backed up by the zoo’s own admission of its poor standards and by the assessment of the UK Lynx Trust’s chief scientific adviser. Meanwhile, the veracity of farmers who blame the lynx for sheep deaths is challenged.

    7. There is an extent to which the council were bound by legislation. As the lynx is classed as a dangerous animal, if they had decided not to act and an incident had occurred, they would also be in breach of their duty of care to the local population.

    Ultimately this is a very unfortunate situation which is largely the result of an improperly managed zoo. Regrettably animals do escape from zoos, and are shot more regularly than the press and public are aware of. This is a dangerous activity and the highest levels of health and safety are adhered to when this is carried out. I’d suggest those commenting and the original poster dig a little deeper into the story and apply a healthy degree of cynicism before jumping to conclusions. To cite the example of escaped mink reintegrating into the countryside as evidence of how re-wilding can work is madness. Virtually every commentator, charity and expert recognises that the release of american mink was an ecological disaster for the UK, and this kind of suggestion really implies the original poster knows little if anything of the subject he is writing about.

  10. There is an ancient belief that holds that, if anyone admits that they have been wrong in an online discussion, the internet will collapse into a black hole and suck the whole of the universe into oblivion. It has never been tested … until now!

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