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The Lynx UK Trust has accused the National Sheep Association (NSA) of creating “hysteria and scaremongering” over claims an escaped lynx killed eight sheep in Mid Wales.

Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific adviser at the trust, said there was “no conclusive evidence” a lynx was responsible for the deaths.

Farmer Owen Jenkins told Farmers Weekly he was convinced that the lynx, named Lilleth, which escaped from Borth Wildlife Animal Kingdom, near Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, had attacked his sheep flock.

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Mr Jenkins said eight of his sheep died after they were attacked on his farm 10 days ago. One of the dead sheep died after suffering bite marks in its neck. The other seven, including a Suffolk lamb, appeared to have died from shock.

He said he saw Lilleth stalking him and a zoo worker after they had gone to the field to check Mr Jenkins’s sheep. The lynx is still at large.

A post-mortem examination carried out by Welsh government vets on one of the sheep confirmed it had died from bites to the top of the neck with associated haemorrhaging. But it was not possible to confirm whether these bite marks were caused by a dog or a cat.

Unsuitable habitat

Dr O’Donoghue said It was “highly unlikely” a lynx would be responsible for killing eight sheep in “one clinical attack” on one day.

“Lilleth is a captive-raised animal that has never hunted, never seen a roe deer and finds herself in a completely unsuitable habitat. Her behaviour bears no relation to that of a wild lynx.”

Lilleth would be surviving on her fat reserve and by eating small mammals, such as rabbits, he said. “But this lynx needs to be caught and placed in a suitable enclosure where she can enjoy as natural a life as possible.”

Much more plausible scenarios are either a dog attack, or that the sheep had died from some other cause, which is “extremely common in the UK”, said Dr O’Donoghue.

“Official figures on sheep mortality from the National Animal Disease Information Service (Nadis) claim between two and six million sheep die every year from malnutrition, disease and exposure. Sadly, the sight of a trailer full of dead sheep in winter is a not uncommon site.”

Rewilding application

The Lynx UK Trust has submitted the first ever licence for a release of zoo-bred Eurasian lynx in the UK – in Kielder Forest, Northumberland – and is in regular dialogue with the relevant government agencies.

Dr O’Donoghue said releasing lynx into the English countryside will generate tens of millions of pounds for rural economies through sustainable eco-tourism.

“This has been proven in the Harz Mountains in Germany, where it is estimated that lynx tourism generates £12.8m/year from eco-tourism.”

For young people in rural communities, lynx could offer the chance of a sustainable job in their local area, he added.

But the NSA is concerned rewilding lynx will result in hundreds of sheep deaths. The Lynx Trust UK has proposed an insurance scheme to compensate any sheep farmer for losses owing to any lynx attacks.