Tests on lynx bones found in a cave in North Yorkshire in the 19th century have overturned the widely held belief that the wild cat went extinct in the UK 4,000 years ago. Radio carbon dating has shown the bones to be a mere 1,500 years old.
The findings indicate that the lynx went extinct as a consequence of hunting, or the pressure of losing territory to farm land. According to the Yorkshire Post, the involvement of humans in the lynx's extinction means that the government is obliged to reintroduce the cats to the wild.
Previously, the lynx was thought to have gone extinct when the climate changed, becoming cooler and wetter. A lynx skull found in Scotland had previously been carbon dated at 2,000 years old. But scientists concluded it had to have been left by traders because it was so much younger than other lynx remains found in the UK.
Aberdeen University ecologist David Hetherington published the results of the research in the Journal of Quaternary Science.
He said: "These findings indicate that lynx survived the change in the climate and were most probably driven to extinction when people cut down the forests and effectively destroyed the lynx's habitat."
This has important implications, Hetherington explains, because of an EU directive that obliges member states to consider re-introducing species killed off by human action. "One species on the list of possible candidates is the Eurasian lynx." he concludes. ®