Reintroducing the big cats could control deer numbers and enrich ecosystems but farmers and the public need reassurance, say experts
T he maverick rewilder Derek Gow is wearing an extremely small pair of coral pink shorts as he introduces his three new Eurasian lynxes. He looks like Tiger King’s Joe Exotic on the wrong side of the Atlantic.
The shy new arrivals are joining a menagerie of animals at his rewilding project in Devon. They are in a large pen with a four-metre-high fence but Gow, like a growing number of conservationists, wants to see lynxes prowling freely in the countryside.
Surrounded by buttercups, thistles and long grass, it is hard to believe these exotic-looking cats are native to the UK and lived here for thousands of years. The black lines around their green eyes give them the air of an Egyptian pharaoh. In the two hours spent watching them, one climbs a willow tree, kills a blackbird, then eats it in the long grass. They squawk like crows, play in the water and are a delight to watch.
Gow does not want to let these specific cats out. They are from a UK zoo and far too tame, he says. Instead, he wants people to come and learn about them. “This is about starting conversations that might actually go somewhere. Because I’m done with talking for the sake of fucking talking,” he says. Gow thought he was getting three females but “two arrived with testicles”, he says with characteristic frankness.