Blog: The Missing Lynx: The Past and Future of Britain’s Lost Mammals

Written by: Gemma Askham

Dr Ross Barnett’s book, The Missing Lynx: The Past and Future of Britain’s Lost Mammals,
was the subject of his event at Off the Shelf. The event was curated by Sheffield Hallam as
part of this year’s Environment theme, contrasting the University of Sheffield’s distinctly
more urban but equally fascinating theme of Working-Class Voices.

The Missing Lynx explored the numerous species of megafauna which populated the Earth
thousands of years ago, most of which “mysteriously” disappeared around 10,000 BC –
around the time humans started interacting with them. This topic of humanity’s relationship
with animals came up time and again during Dr Barnett’s talk, and for good reason; the
reason I put “mysteriously” in quotation marks. The research presented seems to irrefutably
show that when humans began to exist alongside species such as the Woolly Mammoth or the
Cave Lion, these species subsequently disappeared.

There seems little mystery surrounding this crime, despite it occurring thousands of years
ago; all the carefully curated evidence of DNA, cave art, and lovingly gathered Cave Hyaena
poo points to humans being the main reason for these species’ disappearance. Of course,
there is still so much more to learn about these extinctions and the reasons for them. As Dr
Barnett pointed out, possibly the only positive of a warming climate is that the permafrost is
melting at an increasingly rapid rate, thus revealing more examples of well-preserved ancient
mammals which we can learn from – such as two adorable-in-a-morbid-way Cave Lion cubs,
who might as well have been snoozing in an Attenborough documentary. I’m also being
unfair by solely blaming our ancestors; they probably weren’t killing these animals for fun
(although who can say?). They were simply trying to survive the harsh and fluctuating
environment like all the other species were, showcasing perhaps the most extreme example of
the cruelty of nature.

The existence of humans being the common thread linking these extinctions deeply troubled
me. There is nothing quite as heart-breaking as being shown so starkly that your species was
responsible for the destruction of so many others. Dr Barnett asked that the message we took
home was that we remember the species who were an integral part of our environment, who
sadly no longer walk this earth. We should also focus our efforts on protecting and
conserving the species that exist today, instead of attempting to resurrect any fallen species
(Jurassic Park was very much the Woolly Mammoth in the room here). Rewilding and
reintroduction are hugely successful ways of doing both, and I left convinced that the
reintroduction of the Northern Lynx could only be positive for Britain and its environment.

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