According to the British Big Cat Cociety there are thousands of big cats roaming wild in the British countryside.
Here is a small listing of some of the more well-known big cat sightings:
The Shooters Hill Cheetah.
The Surrey Puma.
The Nottingham Lioness.
The Glenfarg Lynx.
The Cannich Puma.
The Powys Beast.
The Beast of Exmoor.
The Kellas Cat.
The "Beast of Bodmin" caught on video in 1998.
The footage may show a species of wild cat previously thought extinct
Leopards are Prowling Britain, Survey Suggests
James Owen in England
for National Geographic News
June 3, 2004
If it is true that big cats haven't lived wild in the U.K. for 2,000 years, then, judging from the results of a new survey, a lot of large house cats now roam the British countryside.
Organized by British Big Cats Society (BBCS), the nationwide survey recorded 2,052 unconfirmed sightings of big cats in just 15 months, between January 2003 and March of this year.
The sighting counts averaged four each day. Two-thirds of the sightings involved large black animals resembling melanistic leopards, also known as panthers. If all these sightings had been confirmed, it would mean the U.K.'s leopard population now rivals that of the Kashmir region of the Indian subcontinent.
The survey was compiled with the help of farmers, police officers, and other observers. The BBCS, based near Plymouth, England, says, "There is little doubt that big cats are roaming Britain."
Besides leopards, the society claims Britain may also be home to wild pumas and other exotic felines such as lynx and caracals that have either escaped from or been deliberately released from zoos and private collections. Officially, the last large cat living in Britain was the northern lynx some 2,000 years ago.
The new data include reports of five attacks on horses, more than 30 sheep-kill incidents, and several discoveries of paw prints. Southwest and southeast England had the highest percentage of reported sightings.
Farmers were among the main contributors to the study. The National Farmers' Union, which represents farmers in England and Wales, had encouraged its members to become the "eyes and ears" of the countryside for the BBCS.
"They have had a lot of unexplained livestock kills and attacks," said British Big Cats Society founder Danny Bamping. "These involved not just sheep but goats, chickens, and horses. Farmers know what sort of damage foxes or dogs can cause, and many of them have seen these cats."
While Bamping concedes that a significant number of these "big cats" were probably nothing more than oversized domestic cats, deer, or foxes, he believes around 70 percent of the sightings were genuine.
He says the society already has good evidence for the existence of large felines in Britain, including records of 19 pumas, lynx, jungle cats, and leopards trapped, shot, or run over since 1980.
Bamping says the new study suggests these animals may even be breeding in the wild.
"We've had sightings of big cats with cubs and places where we've found big paw prints and small paw prints together," he said. "We've also had incidents where sheep have been killed and mauled rather than eaten, which indicates that maybe the mother is trying to teach the young how to kill."
Reported sightings in May included a large black cat with cubs seen by two girls in Oxfordshire, England. "They said the cubs were the same size as their German shepherd dog," Bamping added.
And in southwest England a driver traveling with two passengers near the town of Taunton claimed he had to brake sharply to avoid a big, catlike creature.
Passenger Nick Mansfield told the Taunton Times: "I'm not the sort of person who believes in these sorts of things, but we all saw it, so I can't be going mad. It looked to be about waist height and was very dark in color, so all we could really make out was its large, bright yellow eyes. If it wasn't a cat, then it was the biggest dog I have ever seen."
The alleged sighting comes four months after a local farmer claimed he lost livestock to a huge cat.
Bamping's own big cat encounter occurred 12 years ago while on a train passing through rural Kent in southeast England. He believes he spotted a black leopard in a field as the train accelerated slowly from a station.
"I saw it for about ten seconds," he added. "It's a bit like a video clip in the memory. There's no doubt in my mind that what I saw that day was not a domestic cat."
Bamping, who has a keen interest in cryptozoology (the study of unverified animals) and a coelacanth (a fish presumed extinct until its rediscovery in 193
tattooed on his arm, says the experience inspired him to set up the British Big Cats Society. The group's stated aim is to scientifically identify, quantify, and catalogue big cats living wild in Britain.
Members include Chris Moiser, a zoologist at Plymouth College of Further Education. While the deliberate release of exotic felines in Britain is a criminal offense, Moiser says it may not be a bad idea, because grazing animals such as deer currently have no natural predators to keep populations in check.
"The reintroduction of the lynx might, if handled correctly, help to balance this situation," he said.
As to the existence of wild big cats in Britain, the U.K. government is yet to be convinced. So far it has resisted BBCS calls for a U.K.-wide scientific study, saying existing evidence is not strong enough to justify this.
In the 1990s U.K. Ministry of Agriculture scientists did investigate the alleged presence of big cats on Bodmin Moor in the county of Cornwall. Numerous reported sightings, sheep kills, and blurred photographs and video images fueled speculation about the existence of a "Beast of Bodmin"—rumored to be one or more black leopards.
After their six-month study, however, the scientists concluded, "No verifiable evidence for the presence of a 'big cat' was found."
In the meantime, the hunt continues.