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Lynx kittens escape from New York State Zoo at Thompson Park; both are recovered safely, one from tree

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WATERTOWN - Watertown Fire Department Battalion Chief Robert D. Seeber said he was not excited when he and other members were called on Monday to recover a Canada lynx stuck in a tree after escaping its cage at the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park.

The initial call described the 6-month-old lynx as a cub, and another department member compared its size to a house cat. However, looking at the lynx’s disproportionately large paws while reaching for it from a ladder truck about 50 feet above the ground, Capt. Seeber realized the comparison may have been off the mark.

“I was thinking it was going to rip my face off,” he said.

The lynx kitten was one of two that escaped from their enclosure about 11 a.m.

Zoo Executive Director John T. Wright said he and other zoo staff had not determined where the kittens escaped, but speculated that they climbed out through the roof of the exhibit, more than 20 feet high. The climb likely was aided by a tree that has its base inside the enclosure. Mr. Wright said the exhibit was built for adult lynx, and at about 6 months old, the kittens could be strong enough to climb up to the top of the enclosure but small enough to slip through a hole in the fence.

Zoo officials quickly recovered one of the kittens outside the exhibit, while the second made its climb higher up the tree.

After waiting for two hours for the kitten to move on its own, zoo officials called in the Watertown Fire Department to help recover the kitten. Mr. Wright said the kitten was “pretty calm.”

“He just didn’t want to come down,” Mr. Wright said.

Capt. Seeber said the zoo’s initial advice was to move the ladder truck’s bucket above the lynx, as a way to intimidate it into coming down. When that method didn’t work, the firefighters began shaking the tree.

“He definitely didn’t like that,” Capt. Seeber said. He said the lynx reacted to the tree shaking by moving to a lower branch.

A 30-foot-tall ground ladder then was placed against the side of the tree, with Capt. Seeber climbing up the ladder with a 6-foot-long net.

“He really didn’t like I was there,” he said. He returned to the ladder truck after determining the cat was out of reach.

Returning to the ladder truck, firefighters lowered the bucket to a point where Capt. Seeber could use a pike pole to pull the lynx closer to the base of the tree, at which point Capt. Dennis M. Gardner was able to capture it with a net and bring it to the ground.

The firefighters’ rescue took about an hour, Mr. Seeber said.

The lynx kitten was not injured during its escape, Mr. Wright said, and was returned to its exhibit. Mr. Wright admitted the call for firefighters to bring down the kitten was “a little ironic.”

The two kittens were from a group of four born in May. When they are old enough for breeding and individual display, they will be sent to other zoos.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the Canada lynx as an endangered species in several states, including New York. The service shows on its website that the cat’s population is spread through areas with boreal forest conditions.

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