Bones found in a cave in North Yorkshire 100 years ago have dispelled myths about the extinction of one of Britain's hunting cats, the Eurasian lynx, showing it roamed the country as recently as 1,500 years ago.
Scientists had believed the lynx, once a common sight throughout the forests of Britain, was wiped out by a change in climate more than 4,000 years ago.
But radiocarbon data on lynx bones found in Moughton Fell Fissure Cave and Kinsey Cave in the Craven area of North Yorkshire has revealed that the big cat was alive in the UK hundreds of years later.
The findings, published online in the Journal of Quaternary Science, lend momentum to moves to reintroduce the animal to Britain because they indicate that man, not nature, was responsible for its demise. The European Union's habitats directive obliges member states to consider reintroducing a species killed off by human action.
David Hetherington, of the University of Aberdeen's Zoology Department, an ecologist who carried out the research, said: "Taken together these findings indicate that lynx survived the climate change and were probably driven to extinction when people cut down forests, destroying their habitat."
In recent years the lynx has been reintroduced to parts of Germany, Switzerland and Austria, where it is beginning to re-establish itself despite fears among farmers and hunters that the predator is competing for farm animals and deer.