Zoo owners lash out at decision to kill escaped lynx Lillith, saying she posed no threat to humans

Victoria Ward
Lilleth, the escaped lynx, who was killed  - WALES NEWS SERVICE

Lilleth, the baby lynx, led her captors on a merry dance since making a bold bid for freedom last month.

A police helicopter with thermal imaging technology, baited traps and heat-seeking drones had all been employed in a major hunt for the young wild cat, who escaped a Welsh zoo by taking a giant leap over an electric fence.

Local councillors wrung their hands and high-level meetings were held with veterinary experts.

But after a rather protracted game of hide and seek, the 18-month-old wild cat was unceremoniously shot dead, prompting a political blame game and a huge row over her “cruel and unnecessary” fate.

Tracy Tweedy, 47, co-owner of Borth Animal Kingdom, said she would fight the local council for justice “every step of the way” after being informed that the lynx, whom she insisted had posed no threat to the public, had been killed by a professional game hunter.

"We in no way agreed to or participated in the shooting of our baby Lynx,” she said.

"We are truly devastated and outraged that this happened."

Lilleth, the escaped lynx, who was killed  Credit: WALES NEWS SERVICE

Until a few days ago, she was believed to have remained within the zoo’s perimeter fence but her fate was sealed when on Thursday, she was spotted asleep under a caravan in a local holiday park, closed for the winter season.

Mrs Tweedy suggested the shooting could easily have been avoided had the council not insisted on following unnecessary protocol.

“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,” she said,

“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.”

Ceredigion County Council declared that the risk to the local community had “increased from moderate to severe” and that as she had strayed into a populated area, it was necessary to act decisively and “humanely destroy” the animal.

Mrs Tweedy and her husband, Dean, who only took over the zoo in May, received a late night call on Friday informing them that the lynx, who was worth around £5,000, was dead.

However, they said that despite requests, they had seen no photographs of the animal and had been given no information about where or how she was shot.

Andrew Venables  Credit: wmsfirearmstraining

“They managed to locate and shoot her within 24 hours so why didn’t they do that at the very beginning and just tranquilise her,” Mrs Tweedy asked.

“You do not get to shoot a cat for no reason. She was no threat to anyone. It should never have happened and we will fight them on it every step of the way.”

Andrew Venables, the marksman who killed Lilleth, claimed that her fate was inevitable given the zoo’s failure to catch her, which he branded a “farce”.

He said he had no option but to shoot the lynx because tranquiliser darts take 15 minutes to take effect, meaning she would have been able to run away.

“The animal was found in a caravan park, where tourism is vital, and the possibility of a darting response was never explored,” he said.

“It was further complicated by the dark, since it was a night-time operation.”

But he announcement was met with howls of protest from animal rights campaigners, the public and local councillors who questioned why she had not been shot with a tranquiliser dart.

Dr Paul O’Donoghue, director and scientific advisor for the UK Lynx Trust, said he was “thoroughly disgusted” by the killing.

He criticised the zoo owners for failing to spot that Lilleth was missing for up to six days and also for keeping five lynx in the same enclosure, which he claimed had led to fighting within the group and a build-up of pressure which he blamed for the escape.

He said the council had handled the entire incident “very badly” and also accused the National Sheep Association of “scaremongering” by publicising what he deemed wildly exaggerated and unfounded claims that the lynx had killed several local sheep.

Aberystwyth central councillor Ceredig Davies said that while he was not party to the decision to kill the animal, the authority must take some responsibility.

“My expectations and what I will be asking for is that following a full investigation, a report will be presented to councillors on how this unfortunate animal met its end in this way,” he said.

Mr Davies suggested that councillor Rhodri Evans had taken the decision to kill the lynx but Cllr Evans told the Telegraph that Christianne Glossop, the chief veterinary officer for Wales, was responsible.

Ms Glossop referred queries to the Welsh Government, which insisted that although she had provided advice on the issue, the responsibility lay solely with the local authority.

Borth Animal Kingdom, which has been closed since Lilleth’s disappearance was first noted, has been told to address various safety points and will be inspected by the council later this month before it is allowed to reopen.