Rumours of a ‘Beast of Barnet’ filled pubs and school classrooms when various sightings of a big cat were reported across north London in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Most were dismissed as false or inaccurate – but in May 2001 the sighting of a lynx in a back garden in Cricklewood scrambled armed police officers and zoo officials, who spent four hours trying to snare the dangerous predator.
The young female European lynx, believed to have escaped from an owner who was keeping the animal illegally, was sent to London Zoo to recover from its ordeal.
But what became of one of Barnet’s most dangerous and high profile fugitives? And was there a happy ending to the unhappy animal's tale? Times Series chief reporter Chris Hewett carried out an international investigation to find out…
The discovery of a wild cat patrolling the back gardens of Cricklewood 13 years ago shocked the local community. But its capture lent credence to those who had reported similar sightings in earlier years.
In 1998, people in Potters Bar and South Mimms were told to lock themselves in their homes as police investigated reports of a large cat-like predator spotted in the area.
And officers initially laughed when yet another sighting was reported in May 2001.
But the emergency call by Carol Montague, a cleaner working at Hocroft Avenue, led to a high profile chase across neighbouring fields by police and zoo experts, who eventually tranquilised the animal at the second time of asking in a stairway leading to the Avenue Court flats in nearby Farm Road.
The lynx was taken to the big cat enclosure at London Zoo where she was given the name Lara and treated for a broken paw and malnutrition.
The following year, zookeepers began a Europe-wide hunt to find a mate for the lovelorn feline, who was the only animal of her kind at the enclosure.
But Lara’s fate remained largely unpublicised, so the Times Series asked London Zoo to dig out its records and find out what happened to Barnet’s most famous big cat.
Press officer Rebecca Smith was able to confirm that Lara was transferred to the Parc Zoologique du Bois de Coulange, in Amneville, France, in 2004, following a three-year stay in the capital.
And having made contact with the zoo keepers across The Channel, the Times Series learned that Lara’s tale took a heart warming twist, with the news that she gave birth to lots of cubs after finally finding a mate.
Sadly, she died in 2009, but Lara's legacy lives on, with her cubs now living in various places around the world.
Nicolas Leroux, zoological director at the Parc Zoologique said: “Sadly, Lara died in 2009. Since she arrived at Ammenville she always appeared to have problems with her back.
“We think she must have sustained an injury during her time in the wilds in London. As the years went by, and Lara got older, she was in more and more pain. She had trouble moving and we realised that the medication we had been giving her to relieve her pain was no longer doing the job, so we put her down.
“During the years, she did give birth to lots of little children. They live in France, Spain, Germany, Wales, and even in Nashville.”