Big cats 'are a common sight in the countryside'

The Times March 16, 2006

Big cats 'are a common sight in the countryside'
By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Big cat sighting, by county.

HUNDREDS of big cats are roaming the wilds of Britain, new evidence suggests, and their numbers are growing.

The British Big Cats Society reports that there were 2,123 sightings in the 15 months from April 2004 to July last year. Most, some 60 per cent, were of panther-like black cats, and 32 per cent were of brown and sandy-coloured creatures, possibly pumas. Another 6 per cent closely resembled the lynx.

Devon was the hottest spot, with 132 reported sightings, followed closely by Yorkshire, 127, Scotland, 125, and Wales, 123. There were more than 100 sightings in Gloucestershire and Sussex. There were even seven sightings in London.

Danny Bamping, founder of the society, whose research is to be published in the April edition of BBC Wildlife magazine, accepts that a third of the sightings were hoaxes or cases of mistaken identity. But he believes that 1,500 sightings were genuine.

Sightings of big cats such as the Beast of Bodmin Moor have fired public imagination over the past 30 years but have never been proved. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has for years been sceptical about such reports and has refused to acknowledge that there are big cats prowling the countryside. But Mr Bamping has what he calls “hard evidence”. He fears that without action big cat numbers will increase, with the potential for cross-breeding and increased danger to some communities and farm animals.

His new evidence includes a skull found by a farmer in north Devon last July. Three independent experts have identified it as that of a puma.

There have also been three reported attacks by big cats on horses and more than 35 incidents involving sheep being killed. There have also been 17 reports of a big cat with cubs. These sighting appear to be a new trend and suggest that the cats are breeding in the wild.

Mr Bamping has released a photograph of a dead lynx that was shot in Norfolk in 1991. The incident was first reported in 2003 and the picture is being made public for the first time.

Mick Cole, of Gravesend, Kent, has sent the society a photograph of injuries he suffered in an encounter with a lynx in January 2002. It had picked up his family’s pet rabbit and at first he thought that it was a fox. He said: “When I was less than an arm’s length away, the ‘fox’ looked up and I immediately realised that this was not a fox at all but a lynx wild cat, about the size of a labrador dog, and instantly identifiable by the tufts of black fur on the tips of its ears.”

There was a vogue for keeping big cats as pets in the 1960s and 1970s and Mr Bamping believes that many were dumped in the countryside after 1976, when the Dangerous Animals Act was introduced. He said that some owners had admitted releasing their animals and that he had evidence to confirm 23 such releases of a panther, pumas, lynx and other exotic cat species.

Some police forces are taking a keen interest. Mark Robson, a civilian wildlife and environmental crime officer for Gloucestershire police, said yesterday that in the past five years he had taken 400 witness statements about sightings of big cats in the Cirencester, Stroud and Forest of Dean areas. He said. “I believe these big cats do exist because there is just too much evidence. Besides the witness reports, we are getting a lot of farm animals being unusually killed.”

Mr Bamping hopes that with support of the police and the National Farmers’ Union, Defra will be persuaded to fund a nationwide study on the sightings of big cats.

Sophie Stafford, editor of BBC Wildlife, said: “The thought of big cats roaming the countryside has captured many people’s imagination, but until now proving their existence has been impossible. With new evidence, the British Big Cats Society is tantalisingly close to being able to provide conculsive proof of their presence.”

A Defra spokesman told the magazine: “Defra does not believe there are big cats living in the wild in England. We do not have a remit for animals in the wild in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.”
A Sign of How Tired FiveParadox Is

I read the title of that article, and saw:
Big cats are a-comin'

Huh. It sounded confusing, like they were invading cities or something.
But now I am not confused anymore.

FiveParadox backs slowly out of the thread, first walking, then breaking into a sprint.
There are big cats in cities.

Several have been seen in London, the largest city in Europe.

There have been several sighting in my home town.
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