The Lynx – ideal apex to help restore the Caledonian forests

“The lynx would contribute markedly to ecosystem functions by hunting and disturbing roe deer… It is a disgrace to UK wildlife conservation that the species is still absent.” Roy Dennis, Restoring the Wild.

If you’re at all familiar with rewilding, you probably know about the importance of apex predators as keystone species and how trophic cascades impact biodiversity. You may be familiar with particular examples. You may have heard how the first discovered case of this was the ochre sea star, and how it has a regulating function in rock pool ecosystems without which the system collapses completely. After the importance of apex predators was discovered in the context of this small marine ecosystem, opportunities arose to witness the same phenomenon in much larger ones.

You’ll probably be familiar too with the case of the wolves of Yellowstone in the US. Wolves were eradicated, and it had a massive effect on the place. Numbers of deer (known as elk in the US) went up, and these deer also moved around less and spent more time in certain places which previously they had avoided out of fear that they might get trapped there and be unable to escape. Coyotes became the apex predator, but their prey was smaller, so levels of smaller mammals dropped. The deer overgrazed, reducing the number of trees. The beavers who ate these trees had less food and less material for their dams and shelters, and their numbers dropped, which had knock on effects as they are themselves a keystone species. There was much erosion of river banks and the courses of rivers were changed, becoming less meandering, and less conducive to wildlife. The numbers of fish, insects, songbirds and amphibians also dropped. Species that were used to scavenging on wolf kills also suffered, such as bears, eagles and ravens.

A decision was made to reintroduce wolves, and everything I just mentioned was reversed. That the wolf creates the right kind of order and even, indirectly, changes the course of rivers, makes it seem just like one of those Australian Dreamtime totems that emerged in deep time and created the landscape and instituted that right way to live on the land – which gives this a powerful cultural resonance, as well as – and reflecting – the ecological value. Indeed, the wolf is a feature of this ecological landscape. Imagine that ecological landscape represented as an actual physical landscape, and you would have a wolf mountain somewhere in there, as it is necessarily a permanent feature of it: a landscape feature creature, like a Dreamtime site sacred to an animal totem.

Of course, it wouldn’t be appropriate to release wolves into any little woodland – for one thing, they need a big range so there’s enough prey to support them. But the resistance that many people have to the release of wolves even in appropriate places is unfounded. There is in fact a sparsity of evidence that wolves have ever been much of a threat to humans. So where did that idea come from? It is more likely that they became demonised by farmers when they took livestock. New ways to protect livestock are a better option than simply eradicating wolves, who have a right to exist in the plces where they are part of the natural ecosystem.

While there may be resistance to releasing wolves into the wild in many areas, this is less likely to be an issue with lynxes, as these extremely shy creatures are even less likely to attack humans than wolves. We should think of the few hundred years since they became extinct in Britain as being only yesterday, a blink of an eye, and this would help us frame it as the very recent loss of a natural feature of the landscape, that, no questions asked, should be restored.

It’s partly because the lynx stands a better chance of being reintroduced in my home country of Britain that I’ve chosen it as my next rock art Keystone Creation. More specifically, the lynx could be released in the Scottish Highlands, as it needs a large territory, and it could prove enormously valuable in restoring the Caledonian forest, by its impact on deer. It was also considered for the Forest of Dean to keep wild boar numbers in balance, as it would prey on the piglets, but this didn’t get final approval because of the number of roads running through the area, or something.

“There’s been enough research. At some stage politicians must be bold enough to show support so that we can just get on with it. Surely it’s time for the Scottish government to license the return of the missing lynx.” Roy Dennis, Restoring the Wild.

Another reason I’ve chosen the lynx for my next rock art piece is because it’s an animal whose presence requires amplification through art, because even if it’s somewhere in the landscape, we’re very unlikely to see it, as it’s so shy and elusive. If it is reintroduced, art will have a real role to play in making us conscious of its presence, by acting as its stand in. So for example, lynx rock art in a highland glen could make the invisible visible.

It’s this very shyness that could well work in its favour, because it is so unthreatening to us humans. The |Xam San hunter gatherers of Southern Africa even had a myth a bit like the story of How the Leopard Got its Spots, but which took the theme of How the Lynx Did NOT Become a Man Eater.

The Hyena and the Lynx

Back in Primal Time, when animals were like people and people like animals, an anteater person and a lynx person quarrelled over a springbok maiden. The anteater wanted to be the springbok’s mother and the lynx wanted to be her husband. The lynx pointed out that the real mother of the springbok girl was a female springbok. The anteater then cursed the lynx so that he would only marry a female lynx and would be an eater of springboks – this is when lynxes became not lynx people but full lynx animals. The lynx in turn cursed the anteater to be an anteater animal, and this is when anteaters likewise became not a type of person, but an animal, living in a hole, having only anteater children, and eating ants. The impact of the curses then expended: the anteater’s curse on the lynx expand so that all animals would marry their own kind and the lynx’s curse on the anteater expanded so that all animals would have children of their own kind. These rules are known as the Anteater’s Laws, and they extended to including what each animal would eat, with the remaining human people being the ones who would get to eat meat cooked on a fire and wear clothes and shoes made from skins. As such, these were early time events accounting for the current order of things, which is a feature of totemic cultures; there are many aboriginal myths that do the same thing. The lynx is then a totem that plays a key part in how the order of things comes about.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the hyena, according to these rules, would be a human eater. The lynx, meanwhile, was to be an eater of springboks. However, the hyena then put some of her hyena potency into the lynx, and the lynx started to change (rather like someone becoming a werewolf). She grew longer hair, and started becoming more wild, less civilised, on her way to being a human eater, like the hyena. However, a dance was then held around a fire, like the all night curing trance dances the San still hold. Curing shamans, in their potent trance state, put their own elevated potency into the lynx, forcing out the hyena potency. The lynx lost the long hair from all over its body, except one place – it kept it on its ears, so it would have the hearing abilities of the hyena. This is why lynxes have long dark tufts of fur on their ears, as well as – importantly – why lynxes do not hunt humans. Meanwhile, the hyena was burnt by the fire, and withdrew into the darkness, away from the fire. And this is why this kind of hyena has a dark foot, because it stepped in the fire and was burnt.

This is a fascinating story. Not only does it have the key themes of lynxes being a) necessary features of the order of things (which we can take in our present context to mean the ecosystem) and b) of lynxes not being a threat to humans; it also tells us something about the very concept of rewilding. What do we mean when we talking of rewilding ourselves? Do we mean becoming more wildin the sense of less civilised, more like the hyena and less like the lynx? No. I think the curing trance dance is the kind of wildness we’re talking about: the wildness that makes us more civilised: the healing catharsis that pushes the sick, dysfunctional wildness out of us. I’m a regular trance dancer, using contemporary Trance music for my weekly and often twice-weekly sessions, and if you’re interested in my thoughts on this, have a look at one of my other blog sites, The Confessions of a Hungry Dawn Raver.

The Lynx would benefit the system

The lynx’s favourite food is deer, and by leaving their scent around the forest they also keep deer on the move, which has a big benefit in terms of preventing over-browsing. This means that in those areas at least, patches of lower story growth will appear that are beneficial to birds and insects, and this also helps to conserve the types of woodland plant that might otherwise be grazed out of existence. This is how they could help significantly in allowing the return of the Caledonian forests.

Lynx need large areas to roam, but even in Britain there are certain areas that would be suitable. At the moment, they’re extinct in Britain, but this could easily change. Britain is currently over populated with certain types of deer, so there is a strong argument for lynx reintroduction.

There are a number of reintroduction programs already underway in other parts of Europe, complete with compensation schemes for occasions when they take farmers’ livestock. Lynx need wooded areas, as they hunt by ambush.

If it were to be released in Britain, the lynx would be our largest wild predator, and the closest thing we’d have to the lions and leopards of the Serengeti. Predatory cats have been part of ecosystems across the world for a long stretch of deep, evolutionary time – they are a prominent feature of the ecological landscape. When thinking about the beneficial effects that the reintroduction of such a creature would bring, I can’t help but be put in mind of the return of Aslan to Narnia. The lynx is another landscape feature. The landscape feature in question – the Lynx Mountain – might be called the Sph-lynx.

There are a number of mountains and hills that look like lions, but there’s one for which I feel a particular affection. I refer you to the following video:

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