The population of alien big cats in Denmark is somewhere between minute and almost not existing. There are usually only one or at most two animals at large at any given time, and there is not the slightest indication of an actual population like in Great Britain. So, whenever an ABC is actually at large, the entire Danish cryptozoological community (i.e. yours truly) is on red alert. And so it was during the latest case of ABC-activity in September and October 2011.
On the eve of September 24th a European lynx escaped from a private enclosure located just outside of Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark. As news go, this was far from being a world-shattering event, but from a cryptozoological point of view, it was extremely interesting. This was basically a perfect experiment. I knew exactly where the cat was coming from, and when it had escaped. This was the perfect opportunity to follow an animal from the moment it escaped, study the pattern of subsequent sightings – real and imagined, and see whether the animal was actually capable of surviving in the wild for any length of time. So I sat back and waited with bated breath for the action.
What I hadn’t bargained for, but which turned out to be a very interesting sociological bonus, was the reaction from the general population, both in the immediate area and in the country in general, and especially from a small select group of self-styled lynx-experts, who tried their very best to whip up a sense of general panic. And this in turn had a very distinct effect on the pattern of sightings.
The whole charade started out on September 24th when a man living just outside of Aarhus discovered that one of his animals (he had special permission to keep lynxes as well as ocelots) had escaped. It was a European lynx, an animal he had imported from France a year or two earlier. It was born in captivity, and had never lived in the wild. The man duly reported the escape to the authorities, and then started looking for his animal, hoping it would return when it started to get hungry.
The first sighting of the lynx was reported about 24 hours later, when a jogger in a nearby forest reported seeing a large cat, the size of a big dog, with very long legs and a very short tail. The animal appeared frightened, and ran off very quickly. Three days later a local hunter saw the same animal in the same general area, and reported the sighting to the authorities. He knew what a lynx looked like, and found it highly interesting. At the time he had not heard anything about the escaped lynx. The next day, a couple going for a walk in the same forest saw the lynx as well, and then all hell broke loose – a whole group of more or less self-styled experts started coming out of the woodwork, confusing matters and sowing the first seeds of panic. And local as well as national media started reporting on the story.
Expert 1 was the owner of a small zoo on the other side of Aarhus. He had several lynxes in his care, and in his opinion, they were dangerous animals, and this one, was “getting more and more dangerous, everyday it was out and about…it could easily mistake a child for its normal prey, because it was getting more and more hungry.”
Expert 2 was the owner of another small zoo. He assured everybody that he would keep well clear of a lynx in the wild, because these animals could be very dangerous.
Both of the zoo owners mentioned quite frequently the lynxes they had in captivity, no doubt hoping for an increased influx of paying guests following the escape.
All of this inspired a local chief of police to state that the animal was dangerous, that it should under no circumstances be approached, and that people should keep an eye on their children, if they were walking in the forest where the lynx had been seen. What followed was a frenzy of sightings.
Within five days, more than 60 people, some of them scared out of their wits reported sightings of the lynx. Only a few of them reported told the police though. I got most of the calls, being the only cryptozoologist in Denmark, and thus fairly well known. People were by now so nervous that they started to misidentify all kinds of animals as lynxes. On October 1st four sightings of the lynx was reported within a space of twenty minutes. The only problem was, the sightings were at least 15 km’s apart. There was absolutely no way the animal could have gotten around so fast. October 2nd the lynx was seen on a balcony on the sixth floor in the middle of Aarhus. It was seen on a playground, in a park in the centre of town, and on no less than six different fields in various places outside of the city. Dogs, cows and in one case a deer was misidentified as the lynx, and so was several domestic cats, as well as an old abandoned tent in a field. There was still a few sightings in the area around the place were the lynx had been in captivity (probably the only genuine sightings of the lot), but that was all.
At this stage several people tried to shed some calm (yours truly included), and pointed out that lynxes were not dangerous, and if they were, places like Norway and Sweden, where lynxes are a-plenty, would have dead children all over the place. But of course nobody would listen, least of all the “experts” and the newspapers were having to much of a field day to take notice of anything.
The chief of police were now in a state of panic as well, giving local hunters permission to shoot the animal on sight. This only added to the panic of course, as well as scaring a very concerned owner of the lynx who publicly stated his fear that letting a number of trigger-happy hunters go on a rampage would carry a substantial risk of accidents, dead dogs, shot cows and perhaps even wounded people – not to mention the fact that he had no wish to see his animal stuffed in somebody’s trophy room.
Within days (hours actually) he was charged with having violated the law concerning wild animals in captivity, because he had allowed the animal to escape.
I think there are quite a few lessons to be learned from this ridiculous chain of events.
First of all – be very careful with your sightings, when the “experts” have been at it, especially if said experts are of the panic-mongering kind. People’s fear and apprehension makes them see things. It can be very difficult to persuade these people that they have in fact seen a dog, a garbage bag or an old tent. “I know what I saw!!! Don’t you come gallivanting in here Mr. High and Mighty with your natural explanations. Don’t you dare patronize me, because I know what I saw!” So – a big pinch of salt is needed, and a lot of common sense. Try to focus on the zoology of the thing, and don’t be misled by very spectacular sightings, and please don’t be tempted to overdramatize things. Large numbers of simultaneous sightings, often over very large areas is a sure symptom of this stage in the proceedings. Relax! In this case we were dealing with an ordinary, although probably scared and confused animal, not a monster from another dimension capable of teleportation.
Second – be wary of experts, especially the self-styled kind. They can be very reluctant to withdraw their statements. In this case none of them cared that lynxes are not considered dangerous anywhere, except for the odd deer and similar creatures. This one was dangerous! And it was getting more and more dangerous by the hour! I am quite certain it would have been called a potential man-eater had it managed to evade capture for another week or two.
Thirdly – don’t expect the media to be willing to let your pour oil on troubled waters. Panic and general mayhem is much more fun – and it sells more newspapers.
Oh yes, I nearly forgot. The lynx was treed not far from where it had originally escaped, shot with a tranquiliser dart and brought back to its owner on October 9th, after little more than two weeks on the loose.