Public warned not to approach lynx which has escaped from UK zoo enclosure
Police have warned people not to approach a lynx which has escaped from its zoo enclosure.
Dartmoor Zoological Park raised the alarm that the animal - the size of a large domestic cat - had escaped at 10.20am on Thursday.
The two-year-old male lynx, a wild cat that is grey/silver in colour, is thought to have left the grounds of the zoo near Plymouth.
Devon and Cornwall Police said members of the public should call 999 immediately if they spot the lynx.
"The animal should not be approached as it could become dangerous if alarmed or cornered," a spokesman said.
"Officers have visited two local schools to offer safety advice and reassurance.
"All children at All Saints Primary School are not in school as they are away on a field trip. Police are also working with staff at Little Orchard Montessori School to make sure they are kept inside.
"Officers are also going house-to-house in the area to offer advice and are assisting with the search on the ground.
"The National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter has been deployed to assist with the search of the boundaries of the zoological park."
The escaped animal is a Carpathian lynx, otherwise known as the Eurasian lynx - solitary and secretive animals which live naturally in forests in Europe and Siberia.
They mainly prey on hoofed mammals such as deer, as well as hares, rabbits, rodents and grouse and avoid humans.
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).
"The preferred hunting technique is to stalk and pounce on prey utilising the dense cover of their preferred forested habitats, ambush hunting is occasionally used as well," the website states.
"As all felines, Eurasian lynx are a highly efficient hunter, quickly bringing down prey with weight, momentum, agility and claws, then killing by choking at the throat or suffocating at the mouth and nose."
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.
Thirty staff and volunteers have been searching for the animal at the zoo but no trace has been found.
Zoo operations manager George Hyde told reporters: "We're quite fortunate because we're in a very rural location so in that respect the likelihood of the lynx coming into contact with people is very slim.
"If he did, he would look to get away from those people rather than attack. 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."
Mr Hyde, speaking in a video posted online by the Plymouth Herald, added that the lynx was last fed "before he began his journey" on Wednesday.
He said the zoo was prepared for such situations and reassured the public that the risk from the animal was "very, very low".
"It's about the size of a small labrador so bigger than a domestic cat," he said.
The zoo said keepers discovered that their new arrival Flaviu had escaped from his enclosure at 10am on Thursday.
Flaviu arrived at the zoo on Wednesday night from Port Lympne in Kent and was settled into his new house at 7.30pm.
"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.
"This was discovered at 10am this morning when keepers came to release him.
"A search party immediately set out and quickly established that it was extremely unlikely for the Lynx to still be on site and the local police and Radio Devon were informed at 10.20am.
"Our main concerns now are for the safety of the public and for the welfare of Flaviu.
"He is extremely timid and his instinct will be to stay away from people, so we are asking the public to be vigilant and inform the police on 999 if they see him."
Search teams are being organised in the local area, with humane traps of ample size so as not to hurt Flaviu being laid out.
They will contain various types of meat to tempt him inside and the door will then close behind him, allowed the lynx to be safely returned to the zoo.