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Posts Tagged ‘Devon lynx’

Edwardian-lynx-c-Bristol-Museum-Art-Gallery-600-px-tiny-April-2013

Ab4458 the Edwardian lynx. Photo (c) Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. From Tetrapod Zoology.  

An errant Canada lynx was killed in the English county of Devon in 1903.

Darren Naish writes in the Tetrapod Zoology blog:

For over 100 years, a potentially significant dead cat has been sat in storage in a British museum. Specifically, the specimen – the lynx Ab4458 – has been at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery ever since it was added to the collections there in February 1903, and what makes it significant is that it was shot dead after living wild in Devon, southern England. As revealed in a new paper published by Aberystwyth University’s Max Blake and a team of colleagues (myself, Greger Larson, Charlotte King, Geoff Nowell, Manabu Sakamoto and Ross Barnett), the specimen represents a historic ‘British big cat’, though with ‘big cat’ being used very much in the vernacular sense, not the technical one (Blake et al. 2013).

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For over 100 years, a potentially significant dead cat has been sat in storage in a British museum. Specifically, the specimen – the lynx Ab4458 – has been at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery ever since it was added to the collections there in February 1903, and what makes it significant is that it was shot dead after living wild in Devon, southern England. As revealed in a new paper published by Aberystwyth University’s Max Blake and a team of colleagues (myself, Greger Larson, Charlotte King, Geoff Nowell, Manabu Sakamoto and Ross Barnett), the specimen represents a historic ‘British big cat’, though with ‘big cat’ being used very much in the vernacular sense, not the technical one (Blake et al. 2013).

A lynx of any species would not technically be a big cat. The term “big cat” in the taxonomic sense applies only to the cats in the genus Panthera (the tiger, the lion, the jaguar, the leopard, and now, the snow leopard) and the two species of clouded leopard. All other cats are technically “small cats,” which means that the cougar, the largest of the small cats, is actually larger than the smallest of the big cats, the mainland clouded leopard.

This particular lynx caused quite a stir before it was it was killed.

Accession documents at the museum describe how it was shot dead by a ‘Mr Heb’ (the handwriting in the accession catalogue is difficult to read and this name might be wrong) after killing two dogs. It was then donated to the museum by a Mr J. Niblet of Newton Abbot, Devon. The geographical origin of the specimen is given as ‘Newton Abbot’. Foreign specimens are clearly marked with a place of origin, so we have to conclude that the cat really did come from Devon.

No one really paid much attention to this cat until 2011, when Max Blake, a student at the University of Bristol, found it while doing volunteer curatorial work at the museum. The animal was quite clearly not a Eurasian lynx, as everyone had initially assumed.

Blake, who was then studying zoology, knew it either had to belong to one of the two New World species of lynx, the bobcat or the Canada lynx.

But the animal appeared to have a mixture of both Canada lynx and bobcat features. The cat had just enough facial markings to suggest that it was a bobcat, and thus, it could have belonged to one of the northern subspecies of bobcat.

When I initially heard of this case back in 2011, I thought it was a northern bobcat, not just for those reasons, but because it is virtually unheard of for a Canada lynx to attack dogs. Bobcats, however, are much more aggressive animals, and in the wild, the larger subspecies are known for hunting mule and white-tailed deer. Canada lynx are rangier than bobcats, but they are actually lighter in weight than the largest subspecies of bobcat. And their diet consists of almost nothing but snowshoe hare. (Canada lynx are about the most bizarre cat species I can think of).

The researchers were unable to extract any DNA from the specimen, but the museum did still have its bones on file. After a careful morphological analysis of its skull, it was determined that the cat was indeed a Canada lynx.

This lynx had very worn out teeth, which suggests that is was of advanced age when it was killed. It also might explain why it was so willing to attack the dogs. It was desperate for some sort of sustenance, and dogs may have been the only suitable prey available.

Analysis of the teeth revealed it likely hadn’t been living on its own for very long:

Examined with all of this in mind, Ab4458 lost its incisors during its lifetime. New bone then overgrew the alveoli*. Thick build-ups of calculus are present on its lower and upper premolars. Based on this data, we conclude that Ab4458 suffered from periodontal disease and – based on all that calculus – lived a life of 10 or 11 (or so) years in captivity during which it fed on soft, non-abrasive foods. In conclusion, we couldn’t find any evidence here that the animal lived for a long time in the wild. Rather, it had been a captive animal for years (Blake et al. 2013).

So someone in Devon had been keeping a pet lynx for quite some time. It then was either released or got loose when it was about 10 or 11 years old.

My guess is this cat came from Newfoundland. Devon and Dorset were the English home counties for a large number of fishermen who fished off Newfoundland’s Grand Banks.  Newfoundland English is heavily influenced by the dialects from that part of England, where the people sound like stereotypical pirates.

Perhaps a Devon fishermen brought home a lynx kitten for his children as a souvenir from his travels. The cat was probably a beloved pet for a few months. Then maybe it got a bit aggressive, and its owners moved it to the backyard, where it remained for the rest of its life.

Until it escaped or was set free.

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