The Eurasian Lynx left British shores a long time ago, mainly wiped out by the fur trade. There are tentative plans to reintroduce the animal to the wild after an absence of over 1,300 years. Well, not a complete absence.
One particular lynx was free for a few years at the turn of the 21st century. Instead of a forest in Northumberland — the intended location for the reintroduction of the animal — this lynx roamed the wilds of north London.
In 2001, cleaner Carol Montague reported spotting the Lynx in Cricklewood, sitting on a fence between two local gardens.
This wasn't the first time the animal had been spotted. There were reported sightings of the lynx as far back as 1991 on the fringes of north London and south Hertfordshire. In 1998 there were more sightings, but with them came some doubters, believing the animal — dubbed the Beast of Barnet — to be akin to Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.
Carol Montague faced similar disbelief when she called up the police, her report greeted with condescending laughter. When they eventually took the call seriously, two police arrived to see the lynx calmly sitting there looking back at their shocked faces.
It took a motley crew to capture the animal: the police, an RSPCA animal collection officer, London Zoo's head lion keeper and a senior vet. Said vet, Tony Sainsbury, fired a tranquilliser gun in attempt to sedate the lynx. Unfortunately it had the exact opposite effect, spurring the animal into action, lunging over a fence in an attempt at freedom.
From there the chase unravelled across playing fields, tennis courts and a road where one unlucky van driver nearly hit the lynx. It cornered itself in the stairwell of some flats and Sainsbury had a second chance at sedating the animal.
The police never found where the animal came from, but believe someone was holding it illegally and it broke free, allured by the idea of roaming free in London's suburbia.
The lynx's story doesn't end there however. It was taken to London Zoo, where they saw it was actually a she and named her Lara. She was treated for malnutrition and a broken paw, before the call was put out in the international zoological community to try and find Lara a mate. Lara was transferred to Parc Zoologique du Bois de Coulange in France, where she gave birth to many cubs.
Lara died in 2009, but her cubs live on across the globe in France, Spain, Germany, Wales and even Nashville. Unfortunately none have been sent back to their spiritual homeland of Cricklewood — not that we know of, anyway.