British big cats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A sign requesting information on big cats in West Sussex.

British big cats, also referred to as ABCs (Alien, or Anomalous, Big Cats), phantom cats and mystery cats, are reports and incidents of Felidae not native to Britain but supposed to inhabit the British countryside. These sightings are often reported as "panthers", "pumas", or "black cats".

The existence of a population of true big cats in Britain, especially a breeding population, is believed to be highly implausible by experts owing to lack of convincing evidence. There have been some incidents of recovered individual animals, often medium-sized species such as the Eurasian lynx but in one 1980 case a puma, which was captured alive in Scotland. These are generally believed to have been escaped or released pets that had been held illegally, possibly released after the animals became too difficult to manage.[1] Sightings at a distance may possibly be explicable as domestic cats seen near to a viewer being misinterpreted as larger animals seen further away.[2][3][4] In his book Feral George Monbiot argues that humans are programmed to notice things that might be big cats because of the threat they posed in prehistoric times. A fringe theory suggests that the animals may be surviving Ice Age fauna.[1]

Evidence for their existence[edit]

First sightings[edit]

In the 1760s the great radical writer, William Cobbett recalled in his Rural Rides how, as a boy, he had seen a cat "as big as a middle-sized Spaniel dog" climb into a hollow elm tree in the grounds of the ruined Waverley Abbey near Farnham in Surrey. Later, in New Brunswick, he saw a "lucifee" (North American lynx – Felis lynx canadensis) "and it seemed to me to be just such a cat as I had seen at Waverley."[5] Another old report appeared in the Daily Express on 14 January 1927 of a "lynx" being seen.[6]

Further back there is a medieval Welsh poem Pa Gwr in the Black Book of Carmarthen which mentions a Cath Palug, meaning "Palug's cat" or "clawing cat", which roamed Anglesey until slain by Cei. In the Welsh Triads, it was the offspring of the monstrous sow Henwen.[7]

Captures and remains[edit]

This puma was captured in the wild, in Inverness-shire, Scotland in 1980. It is believed to have been an abandoned pet. It lived the rest of its life in a zoo. After it died it was stuffed and placed in Inverness Museum.

A Canadian lynx shot in Devon in 1903 is now in the collection of the Bristol Museum.[8] Analysis of its teeth suggest that prior to its death it had spent a significant amount of time in captivity.[8]

In 1980 a puma was captured in Inverness-shire, Scotland. The capture followed several years of sightings in the area of a big cat matching the description of the one captured, which had led local farmer Ted Noble to erect a cage trap. The puma was subsequently put into the Highland Wildlife Park zoo and given the name "Felicity". When it died it was stuffed and was placed in Inverness Museum.[9] Zoo director Eddie Orbell concluded that the animal had been domesticated and might not have been released for long, noting that it enjoyed being tickled.[10]

In 1989 a jungle cat that had been hit by a car was found on the roadside in Shropshire.[11]

In 1991 a Eurasian lynx was shot near Norwich, Norfolk. It had killed around 15 sheep within two weeks. The story was only reported in 2003, and the stuffed body of the lynx is allegedly now in the possession of a collector. For many years this incident was considered to have been a hoax, particularly by the hunting community, but in March 2006 a police report confirmed that the case was true. It was probably an escapee from a facility in the area that bred animals, including Eurasian lynxes.[12]

In 1994 it was reported that a large cat with leopard-pattern fur had been shot on the Isle of Wight some time earlier after feasting on chickens and ducks. The shooting was not immediately reported as the farm worker involved feared prosecution, but police reportedly concluded that the animal was an ocelot or serval.[11]

There have been reports that in 1993 yet another puma was captured in Scotland, this time in the Aviemore area.[9][13]

In 1996, police in Fintona, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland shot a cat. It was reportedly a caracal, a medium-sized wildcat species found in Africa and Asia, although a police report described it as a lynx.[2][14] (Caracals are sometimes called desert lynxes, but are not true members of the genus Lynx.)[15]

In a well-reported 2001 case, a young female Eurasian lynx was captured alive by police and vets in Cricklewood, north-London, after a chase across school playing fields and into a block of flats. It was placed in London Zoo and given the name "Lara" before ultimately being transferred to a zoo in France to breed.[16][17] The captured lynx was found to be only 18 months old, although considerably larger than an average domestic cat.[2][18]

This list excludes escapes of short duration and known origin. Examples of this include an incident in Grimsby in 1991 when four lions managed to escape from a circus (or possibly were released) before being captured the same day.[19]

Video and photographic evidence[edit]

A European wildcat, the Scottish population of which is the only wild cat species known to live in Britain.

Around 1993, a number of reports were made of a large black cat around Bodmin Moor, nicknamed the 'Beast of Bodmin', with at least two videos made. Some video evidence was examined by government scientists, who concluded from the position of the camera and animal that the sightings were of black cats no more than 30 cm (12 in) high at the shoulder.[3][4]

In 1994 footage of a large black cat was recorded in Cambridgeshire and was named in the media as the "Fen Tiger".[20]

In 2004 footage was recorded of what appears to be a large black cat near a farm in Shropshire.[21] The cat had been seen by the farmers on numerous occasions.[21]

In June 2006 a large black cat was recorded in the countryside of Banff, Aberdeenshire. Footage of the cat was broadcast by the BBC on 24 May 2007.[22]

In July 2009, photographs and video footage of a large black cat were taken by an off-duty Ministry of Defence Police officer. The animal was walking along a railway line in Helensburgh, Argyll. Large cats, either black or tan, have been reported in the area before.[23]

In late 2009 video footage of what is claimed to be a large black cat was recorded in Herefordshire.[24] The sighting and video footage of the alleged big cat coincided with a spree of sheep killings in the same area.[25]

In 2010 video footage of what is claimed to be a large black cat was recorded in Stroud, Gloucestershire.[26] 'Experts' have estimated that the creature was at least five feet (1.5 m) in length from nose to tail.[27]

In 2011 a family walking in Fochabers Wood, Moray, photographed a large black cat matching the description of a forest jaguar.[28]

Attacks[edit]

In 2000 an 11-year-old boy in Monmouthshire was attacked by what he claims was a large black cat. It left him with five long claw marks across his left cheek. The police called in a big cat expert to investigate the incident.[29]

In 2005 a man who lived in Sydenham Park in south-east London was attacked in his back garden, which backed onto a railway line. The man who was 6 ft (1.8 m) and weighed 15 stone (210 lb; 95 kg) described the cat as being a big black figure that pounced on him and was considerably stronger than he was. He was left with scratches all over his body. Police were called and according to the BBC, one police officer saw a cat the size of a Labrador dog.[30]

DNA evidence[edit]

There have been conflicting reports of DNA evidence as to the existence of big cats in Britain: In 2011 it was announced by the Centre for Fortean Zoology that DNA testing, carried out by Durham University on hairs found in north-Devon, showed that a leopard was living in the area.[31] In 2012 it was announced that DNA testing on two deer carcasses found in Gloucestershire found only fox DNA, despite many locals reporting sightings and believing that the deer had been killed by a big cat.[32]

Sightings[edit]

The research group Big Cats in Britain publishes reported sightings annually by county. The "top ten" counties or regions of Great Britain between April 2004 and July 2005 were:[33]

Area Devon Yorks Scotland Wales Gloucs Sussex Cornwall Kent Somerset Leics
Number of Sightings 132 127 125 123 104 103 99 92 91 89

Species that have been noted only occasionally include the leopard cat, which is the size of a domestic cat but has leopard-like spots, the clouded leopard, a specialised species from the tropics which was captured after living wild in Kent in 1975, and there are even extraordinary cases of lions being reported in Devon and Somerset.[34]

A Maine Coon, the largest breed of domestic cat. At a recorded maximum length of 120 cm (47 in) including tail, Maine Coons can reach the length of Eurasian lynxes, although with a much lighter build and lower height.[35][36]
A fully grown Maine Coon.

In August 2012, several sightings of a lion were reported near St. Osyth in Essex. Police searched the area using helicopters and infrared cameras, instructing residents to stay in their homes. Despite speculation that the lion had escaped from Colchester Zoo or a local circus, all such animals were accounted for. The search was called off the next day with no evidence of a lion having been found.[37] A local resident claimed that a photo of the alleged animal showed their pet cat, a large Maine Coon.[38][39]

There have been reports of a cat known as The Beast of Bevendean for several years across Sussex, including in Brighton and Hove.[40] A fictional attempt to trap the Beast is the subject of the film Young Hunters: The Beast of Bevendean (2015).[41]

Reported British big cat sightings[edit]

Current interest in big cat reports appear to stem from the late 1950s, with news stories of the Surrey Puma[42] and the Fen Tiger.[43] In 1963 the Shooters Hill "cheetah" was reported from that area of London.[44] and in 1964 came similar reports from Norfolk.[45] From the 1970s reports spread across the country; the Beast of Exmoor was reported from Devon and Somerset[46] and the Sheppey Panther has been rumoured to exist since that decade.[47] In 1980 came the first modern report from Scotland,[48] and the Kellas Cat was shot there in 1984.

Greater interest in phantom cats grew from headline stories of the Beast of Bodmin from 1992,[49] and Dumfries and Galloway (the Galloway Puma). In the historic Buchan area of Aberdeenshire the creature is daubed the Beast of Buchan and sightings are regularly documented.[50] A large black panther known as "the Beast of Dartmoor" was seen by a group of fifteen people, including Matthew P. Warburton, in the summer of 2011 in the Haldon Forest.[51] There were many more news stories from different parts of the country.[34][52][53][54][55][56][57][58][59]

In the early months of 2011, a great number of sightings of a 'panther' in Shotts, North Lanarkshire, stirred locals and began to be reported in the local press, after a couple of months, these reports ceased with the assumption that the 'panther' had moved onto pastures new.[60]

One of the most recent reports was of that of a lion roaming around Essex during the summer of 2012. Initially sighted from a caravan park, there were also reports of lion roaring heard in the local area. A photograph was taken by one witness. Police advised local residents to stay indoors and a search was made of the local area, but nothing was found. Local zoos and visiting circuses were contacted, but none reported an escaped lion. A Ms. Murphy later claimed the photograph was that of her pet Maine Coon cat, Teddy.[38]

In 2013, in a small village on the Shropshire-Wrexham border, two sisters reported seeing a large, black, cat-like creature with a three-foot (1 m) stride jumping a fence and disappearing into a neighbouring field. On returning in the day, they discovered a large lair and paw prints too big to belong to a domesticated cat. A one time zoo-keeper at Chester Zoo and Dudley Zoo, Mr Larkham, agreed that the paw prints do not belong to a domesticated cat but were too small to be those of a panther. He believed it could be the descendant of the Shropshire jungle cat from the 1980s, or a gigantic domesticated cat.[61]

The Cotswolds big cat[edit]

The "Cotswolds big cat" is a purported big cat or number of big cats at large in the Cotswolds region of England.[62][63][64]

A walker in Woodchester Park found the carcass of a roe deer on 12 January 2012, with injuries suggesting the animal may have been mauled by a large felid.[62] A second similar deer carcass was found on 16 January 2012.[63]

An analysis of the deer carcasses by University of Warwick scientists only indicated DNA evidence of foxes and other deer.[65]

Government involvement[edit]

In 1988, the Ministry of Agriculture took the unusual step of sending in Royal Marines to carry out a massive search for the rumoured Beast of Exmoor after an increase in the number of mysteriously killed livestock, and farmer complaints over subsequent loss of money. Several Marines claimed to have seen the cat fleetingly, but nothing other than a fox was ever found. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published a list of predatory cats that they know to have escaped in the United Kingdom, although most of these have been recaptured.[66]

Mythological explanation[edit]

For many hundreds of years the myth of the spectral Black Dog has persisted in Britain – a supposed mythical creature appearing as a large black animal in remote moorland with no firm evidence for its existence, beyond hearsay. It has been suggested that the stories of "Black Cats" are merely a modern continuation of such myths and stories, sharing the same elements but with the idea of a supernatural cause having fallen out of credibility and the modern, more plausible, idea of an escaped or released wildcat supplanting it.[67][68][69] In addition, the stories of big cats share many traits suitable for the tabloid press – as such leading to wide exposure of any potential "cat" and further and rapid dissemination of any speculation or supposed evidence for it, helping to build a widespread urban myth.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • BCIB Yearbook 2007, Ed. Mark Fraser, CFZ 2008
  • Beer, Trevor The Beast of Exmoor: Fact or legend? Countryside Productions 1988
  • Brierly, Nigel They stalk by night – the big cats of Exmoor and the South West Yeo Valley Productions 1988
  • Coard, R. Ascertaining an agent: using tooth pit data to determine the carnivore/s responsible for predation in cases of suspected big cat kills. Journal of Archaeological Science 34(10): 1677–1684
  • Francis, Di The Beast of Exmoor and other mystery predators of Britain Johnathan Cape 1993
  • Francis, Di Cat Country David and Charles 1982
  • Harpur, Merrily Mystery Big Cats Heart of Albion 2006
  • Moiser, Chris Mystery Cats of Devon and Cornwall Bossiney Books 2002
  • Moiser, Chris Big Cat Mysteries of Somerset Bossiney Books 2005
  • Moiser, Chris Mystery Big Cats of Dorset Inspiring Places 2007
  • Shuker, Karl Mystery Cats of the World: From Blue Tigers to Exmoor Beasts Robert Hale 1989

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Naturalist Simon King (interview)". Saturday Live. 8 August 2009. BBC Radio 4. 
  2. ^ a b c Hambling, David (19 July 2001). "It's a lion... no it's a cat". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Big cats in the UK: Fact or fiction?". BBC. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Roberts, Gareth (15 December 2014). "Beast of Bodmin Moor: Mystery solved over 'beast' that slaughtered farm animals for decades". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  5. ^ Cobbett, William (2001). Rural Rides. London: Penguin. p. 204. ISBN 978-0-14043-579-5. 
  6. ^ "Inverness Big Cat". Scottish Big Cat Trust. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  7. ^ "Arthur and the Porter". Celtic Literature Collective. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  8. ^ a b Morelle, Rebecca (25 April 2013). "'Big cat' Canadian lynx was on the loose in UK in 1903". BBC News. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Smith, Chris. "Felicity the Puma". Scottish Big Cat Trust. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  10. ^ McAllister, Bill. "Was it really a leopard that was spotted?". The Inverness Courier. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Packham, Chris (3 February 2012). "Beasts of Britain: Could big cats really be roaming the countryside?". The Sun. Archived from the original on 4 April 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  12. ^ "Police report solves lynx mystery". BBC News. 21 March 2006. 
  13. ^ Smith, Chris. "Second Scottish Puma". Scottish Big Cat Trust. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  14. ^ "'Big cat' sightings (FOI request)" (PDF). Police Service of Northern Ireland. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 April 2014. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  15. ^ "Caracal Facts". Big Cat Rescue. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  16. ^ Hewett, Chris (11 March 2014). "What became of the 'Beast of Barnet'? Times Series investigation reveals Cricklewood lynx Lara's legacy lives on". This is Local London. Retrieved 19 January 2015. 
  17. ^ O'Neill, Sean (9 May 2001). "The Beast of Cricklewood is caged". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 September 2010. 
  18. ^ "London Zoo rescues roaming European lynx". Scottish Big Cat Trust. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  19. ^ "Terror as four lions flee big top". Grimsby Evening Telegraph. 8 March 1991. Archived from the original on 21 April 2015. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  20. ^ Osborne, Chris (3 April 2008). "On the Tail of the Tiger". BBC Cambridgeshire. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  21. ^ a b Shropshire Star (2004). "Footage of big cats in Shropshire?". YouTube. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  22. ^ Morse, Felicity (27 August 2012). "Big Cat Sightings: From the Beast of Bodmin to Coulport Cougar, Five Other Cat Tales". Huffington Post (UK). Archived from the original on 25 April 2016. Retrieved 16 February 2014. 
  23. ^ "Policeman takes 'big cat' photo". BBC News. 28 July 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  24. ^ "Was Herefordshire's 'big cat'" caught on camera?". Hereford Times. 16 December 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  25. ^ Bowen, Mark (29 December 2009). "Sheep killings add to Herefordshire's Big Cat mystery". Hereford Times. Archived from the original on 22 March 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  26. ^ "'Black leopard' caught on film in Stroud". The Daily Telegraph. 7 February 2012. Archived from the original on 20 May 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  27. ^ "Video captures footage of 'big cat' in Gloucestershire". This is Gloucestershire. 7 February 2012. Archived from the original on 17 April 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  28. ^ Crawford, Graham (7 December 2011). "Family encounters big cat in the woods". Banffshire Journal. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  29. ^ "Police 'big cat' warning". BBC News. 25 August 2000. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  30. ^ "'Big Cat' attacks man in garden". BBC News. 22 March 2005. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  31. ^ "Experts have DNA proof that big cats are still living in the Westcountry". This is Devon. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  32. ^ "'Big Cat' in Gloucestershire ruled out by DNA Test". BBC News. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  33. ^ BBC Wildlife Magazine, April 2006.
  34. ^ a b "Dartmoor Lion". Scottish Big Cat Trust. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  35. ^ "World's longest cat dies in Nevada". CBS News. 5 February 2013. Retrieved 6 February 2013. 
  36. ^ Nowak, Ronald M. (1999). Walker's Mammals of the World. 2. JHU Press. p. 831. ISBN 0-8018-5789-9. 
  37. ^ "Essex 'lion': Police call off St Osyth animal search". BBC News. 27 August 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2012. 
  38. ^ a b "'Essex lion was my pet cat Teddy Bear' – owner". BBC News Essex. 28 August 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  39. ^ Tucker, Abigail (2016). The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1476738238. Retrieved 13 November 2016. 
  40. ^ Roberts, Anna (22 September 2011). "The Beast of Bevendean – The Movie". The Argus. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  41. ^ "Big cat movie plan by Brighton film school tutor". The Argus. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  42. ^ "The Surrey Puma". Meta-religion.com. 30 January 1985. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  43. ^ Dye, Terry. "The Cambridgeshire Fen Tiger". Big Cats in Britain. Archived from the original on 3 June 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  44. ^ Bord, Janet; Bord, Colin (1980). Alien Animals. London: Paul Elek. pp. 46–48. ISBN 978-0-23640-154-3. 
  45. ^ Bord & Bord (1980) p.50.
  46. ^ Meads, Neil. "Beast of Exmoor". UK Big Cats. Archived from the original on 2 August 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  47. ^ "Is There a Panther Visiting Sheppey?". East Kent Gazette. 11 November 2009. Retrieved 15 April 2010. [dead link]
  48. ^ "Felicity the Puma". Scottish Big Cat Trust. 29 October 1980. Archived from the original on 28 September 2006. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  49. ^ "Beast of Bodmin Moor". Unexplained Mysteries. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  50. ^ Watson, Jeremy (24 December 2006). "The Beast of Buchan". Scotland on Sunday. p. 16. 
  51. ^ "The Beast of Dartmoor Sighting". The Wilderness Guide. 11 March 2014. 
  52. ^ Tozer, Joe. "It's Basingstoke NOT Boringstoke". Basingstoke.me.uk. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  53. ^ Elliott, Emily-Ann (10 June 2008). "Beast of Bevendean strikes again". The Argus. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  54. ^ "Big cats sightings are 'reliable'". BBC News. 7 January 2009. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  55. ^ "Big cats seen in Forest of Dean". Bristol Evening Post. 6 January 2009. Archived from the original on 8 April 2010. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  56. ^ "It was like no other animal I've ever seen before". Harborough Mail. 4 February 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  57. ^ "Policeman takes 'big cat' video". BBC News. 28 July 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  58. ^ "Home". Rutland & Leicestershire Panther Watch. 
  59. ^ "Beast of Bevendean stalks again". The Argus. 15 October 2010. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  60. ^ McLelland, Euan (13 April 2011). "Panther Watch: Seventh sighting as big cat spotted in Shotts". Wishaw Press. Archived from the original on 4 May 2011. 
  61. ^ "Sisters are shocked by huge cat like creature". Shropshire Star. 6 March 2013. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 
  62. ^ a b Morris, Steven (12 January 2012). "Big cat may prowl Gloucestershire wood, says National Trust". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  63. ^ a b Morris, Steven (16 January 2012). "Cotswolds big cat speculation mounts as second dead deer found". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  64. ^ Craig, Ian (26 February 2012). "Big cat spotted in Chelworth". Worcester News. Newsquest Media Group. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  65. ^ "Cotswolds 'big cat': No DNA evidence". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  66. ^ "Reports received by Defra of escapes of non-native cats in the U.K. 1975 to present day" (PDF). Department for Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 December 2006. 
  67. ^ "The Beast of Bodmin Moor". The Natural History Museum, London. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  68. ^ "Bob's Feral Cats". Big Cats in Britain. [dead link]
  69. ^ "Phantom Black Dogs". Mysterious Britain & Ireland. Archived from the original on 24 January 2009. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 

External links[edit]