Drone with thermal camera employed in overnight hunt for escaped lynx
The hunt for an escaped lynx has carried on through the night with the help of a police drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera after several potential sightings.
The wildcat's escape from a zoo near Plymouth was discovered on Thursday, triggering a search operation involving a police helicopter and drone.
Children at a nearby nursery were kept indoors after the escape was reported to police at around 10.20am. Locals were warned not to approach the predator and dial 999 with sightings.
The two-year-old Carpathian lynx called Flaviu was reportedly traced to an area near the Dartmoor Zoological Park on Thursday evening, but failing light meant keepers were unable to intervene with a tranquilliser gun.
It is thought the cat was spotted again by the police drone carrying a thermal imaging camera that had been assisting teams on the ground.
Flaviu arrived at Dartmoor Zoological Park, Devon, from Port Lympne in Kent on Wednesday.
But on Thursday morning keepers arrived at his house to find the lynx - a similar size to a Labrador - had chewed through a board in the wall.
Thirty members of staff and volunteers began combing the zoo but found no trace of the carnivore, concluding that he had left the park.
Search teams were organised in the local area, while humane traps were baited with various types of meat.
When darkness fell police launched a drone carrying a thermal imaging camera near the zoo in the hope they would spot the wildcat.
"We did have a possible sighting with the drones thermal camera & will be followed up by people on the ground," the team tweeted.
A photo shared by Devon and Cornwall Police's drone unit showed the pilot monitoring what appeared to be a group of animals from above.
The force urged members of the public to call 999 if they spotted the animal.
"The animal should not be approached as it could become dangerous if alarmed or cornered," a spokesman said.
A zoo spokesman said Flaviu was settled into his new house and was last fed on Wednesday evening before he made his escape.
"The house into which he was released has successfully held lynx for eight years, however he managed to escape by chewing through a board in the wall of the house," a zoo spokesman said.
George Hyde, operations manager at the zoo, told reporters: "He is a wild animal, he's captive bred, which means that he's never hunted and he's never killed for food.
"The likelihood is that he'll be very scared, he'll be very anxious. He'll be much more likely to stay away from people and to stay hidden."
He later told the Plymouth Herald: "We had a clear possible sighting of him. Unfortunately we were losing daylight and we weren't able to intervene with a dart."
Carpathian lynx, otherwise known as Eurasian lynx, are solitary and secretive animals which live naturally in forests in Europe and Siberia.
According to the Lynx UK Trust website, the cats vary in size from 31.5in (80cm) to 51in (130cm) in length and up to 27.5in (70cm) at the shoulder, and weigh 40lb (18kg) to 88lb (40kg).
They mainly prey on hoofed mammals such as deer, as well as hares, rabbits, rodents and grouse.
Natural predators for the Carpathian lynx are wolves and they are also threatened by habitat destruction, in addition to illegal hunting.
The species has "bounced back from extinction" but is still critically endangered in some areas, according to the WWF.