The truth behind big cat sightings.


It is estimated that up to 7,000 people a year see panther-like (black) animals, or puma-like (brown) animals at large in the UK, though only about a tenth of these come to light via police, newspapers or websites such as (external - login to view), run by the doyen of ABC research, Mark Fraser. In fact, it seems probable that more Britons have now seen a big cat than have ever seen a pig.

Seeing is believing

Sightings of mystery 'big cats' in Britain's countryside have snowballed since the 1980s, dividing opinion about their existence

Merrily Harpur
Wednesday March 22, 2006
The Guardian

Angus, a Warwickshire gamekeeper, went to feed his pheasants in a spinney one afternoon in November 2004 when he surprised an unusual poacher. He recalls: "A black animal emerged with a hen pheasant in its mouth. It recoiled as it saw me and then took off, running down towards the brook. It was hardly more than 6ft away so I had a good look at it. It was definitely a big cat. A black panther - bigger than a Labrador, with a longer body. Its fur was scruffy and muddy. It had a long tail, and pointed ears like a cat - and as it ran the ears went back. I've lived in the country all my life and I've seen everything - foxes, deer, badgers. I know what should be there and what shouldn't."

As it fled it left a footprint, 5in long and 4in wide, in the thick clay which, cast in plaster by the police, became one of many fragments of "hard" evidence for the existence of big cats in the wild in Britain. But while sightings of anomalous big cats (ABCs) have snowballed since the 1980s, investigators are still searching for irrefutable proof: bodies, alive or dead, or unambiguous photos and films.

The absence of "proof" is odd because of the huge scale of the phenomenon. It is estimated that up to 7,000 people a year see panther-like (black) animals, or puma-like (brown) animals at large in the UK, though only about a tenth of these come to light via police, newspapers or websites such as (external - login to view), run by the doyen of ABC research, Mark Fraser. In fact, it seems probable that more Britons have now seen a big cat than have ever seen a pig.

Eyewitnesses come from every walk of life and have one thing in common - their sighting was unexpected. Wiltshire landscape gardener Colin Booth was trimming a hedge when a black, panther-like animal, the size of his own Alsatian, emerged from it. They studied each other from a distance of 20ft before the animal turned and strolled off, leaving Booth stunned.

Lindsay Burnand-Smith was driving near Wakefield, West Yorkshire, in January when, she says: "A black big cat ran across the road in front of me. Not a pet cat, dog, horse or anything else - a huge bounding animal, about 4ft in length. There is not a shred of doubt in my mind that I saw a black panther. I was amazed. It took my breath away."

One theory claims such animals are the descendants of pets released into the countryside by their owners in 1976 when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act made it expensive to keep big cats; yet this is unlikely, for three reasons. First, only three people have ever claimed to have deliberately released big cats - it would have to be done on a vast scale for breeding populations to become established all over Britain, including the Isle of Mull. Second, there have been no bodies of big cats found alive or dead, despite intensive hunts over many decades. Third, while about a quarter of animals sighted have plain, sandy brown fur similar to a puma's, the others reported are jet black.

This is the central conundrum, for the only big cat with a rare melanistic (black) variant - popularly termed a "black panther" - is the leopard. A black leopard cost 500 in 1976 - the price of a small car - so there would have been every incentive to sell such an animal rather than release it. Furthermore, while hundreds of these rare black leopards are apparently at large on our island not one of their spotted brothers has ever been reported.

These mysteries divide those researching the nature and provenance of ABCs. The literalists speculate about hybridisation creating black pumas; the possibility of a relict population of native pre-ice age big cats lingering on unnoticed; and some suspect foul play - the captive breeding of big cats for criminal purposes, such as baiting or as "frighteners".

These nuts-and-bolts theorists shake their heads sadly over commentators who tend to place ABCs among the elusive creatures of cryptozoology, or as modern versions of the spectral "black dogs" of English folklore or the cait sith - the fairy cat - of Highland legend. They protest that ABCs are wholly corporeal, citing occasions when they have been seen drinking, eating, crapping, spraying. Mark Hill, for instance, watched one a few feet from his car bonnet as it clawed at and ate from a discarded chip wrapper - something no phantom black dog would be seen dead doing.

Whatever the opinions, a unique event is set to bring all these factions together to discuss, and perhaps throw light on, the big cat mysteries: the British Big Cats Conference. Angus the gamekeeper will be travelling from Warwickshire with the plaster footprint to compare it with others obtained in similar circumstances. Numerous photographs and nearly all the film footage of alleged big cats at large in Britain will be shown - some that have never been made public before.

Whether or not all this evidence will be enough to pin these animals down for sure, the philosophers and psychologists in the gathering will be sure of one thing: the experience of seeing a big cat changes perspectives on ordinary existence. As Burnand-Smith puts it: "Nothing like this has ever happened to me. Before Saturday, I was simply not interested in these sorts of things."

Above all, perhaps, it is the intensity of such experiences that invites deeper investigation. "It was a beautiful creature, and it had a profound effect on me," Booth says. "I will remember it for the rest of my life."


Over four decades, the Surrey Puma of the 1960s has been joined by the Exmoor Beast, the Beast of Bodmin, the Fen Tiger, the Beast of Ongar, the Pedmore Panther, the Beast of Gloucester, the Thing from the Ling, the Beast of Borehamwood, the Wrangaton Lion, the Beast of Shap, the Beast of Brentwood, the Lindsey Leopard, the Lincolnshire Lynx, the Wildcat of the Wolds, the Beast of Roslin, the Kilmacolm Big Cat, the Beast of Burford, the Chilterns Lion, the Beast of Castor, the Beast of Sydenham, the Shooters Hill Cheetah, the Beast of Bucks, the Plumstead Panther, the Beast of Bexley, the Beast of Barnet, the Nottingham Lion, the Durham Puma, the Horndon Panther, the Beast of Cricklewood, the Beast of Bont, the Beast of Gobowen ... and many more.

The British Big Cats Conference takes place on March 24-26, in Market Harborough, Leicestershire. Tickets in advance or at the door. For more information, go to (external - login to view)
I think I saw something like this a few years ago on unsolved mystories or something
I live in an area that has highest cougar population in the world and I've never seen one. In fact most everyone around here hasn't seen one. The UK situation is the opposite. No one can prove they exist yet many see them. That's really odd. Is it taken seriously or is like the BC Sasquatch?
Read this.....

The million-collar question
By Anna Browning
BBC News

Kept in ice - this lynx was shot in.....Britain

For more than 40 years the phenomenon of the Big Cat thriving in the wilds of the UK has made headlines. But as enthusiasts gather this weekend for the first UK conference on Big Cats, are the authorities beginning to accept they may exist?

The first UK conference on Big Cats taking place in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, this weekend will give enthusiasts the chance to share footage and theories.

It comes as a newly-released police report revealed a lynx was shot by a gamekeeper in 1991 near Norwich, after it started chasing his gun dog.

Officers found the lynx stuffed in a freezer during a raid. It must have escaped illegal ownership of a zoo, they concluded.

Stuffed and mounted

In the 1960s the four-year hunt for the Surrey Puma drew public attention to the possibility there may be something more ferocious than hedgehogs, badgers, or foxes lurking in the undergrowth.

Since then the Beast of Bodmin, the Exmoor Beast and the Telford Puma have added to an ever-growing list.

In 1980, one fed-up Scottish farmer decided to trap the beast which was mauling his livestock using a cage complete with sheep's head.

A female puma reported by the press as "snarling and vicious" was found.

Christened Felicity, she ended her days at a wildlife park, where she was described as overweight but very tame. She now lives, stuffed and mounted, in the Inverness museum.

Danny Bamping, of the British Big Cats Society, says there are three things to do should you come across a big cat.

"Don't approach it, don't threaten it and report it," he says.

The National Farmers' Union also says incidents of animal deaths involving a suspected big cat should be reported to the police.

"We do think it's something that needs to be taken seriously," says a spokeswoman.

But admitting such cats are living in the countryside is one thing, agreeing that they are breeding is quite another.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says there have been escapes of such beasts from zoos or illegal ownerships, but it does not believe there is a breeding population.

"There is always an issue of something escaping from somewhere," says a spokeswoman.

Sightings, it says, peaked after the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animal Act came into force, which banned keeping such animals as pets. But it does not believe these creatures went on to produce offspring.

Fashion accessory

In the 1960s and 1970s having a leopard or panther as a pet was quite the fashion. You could even buy them in Harrods.

Between the 1976 ban and the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, it was perfectly legal to free your meat-loving pet into the wild.

For many this is the most reliable theory of how such creatures found their way into the countryside.

But Merrily Harpur, who has written a book Mystery Big Cats and has sighted a big black cat "with a long flowing tail" while driving in Gloucestershire has other suggestions.

Given that most sightings are of black cats, not those with leopard spots, she is not convinced they are zoo escapees.

Other theories include that they are descendants of animals that lived pre-Ice Age - so have ALWAYS lived in Britain but we just haven't known about it until recently.

This puma skull was found by a farmer in Devon in 2005

Another is that they may have escaped from Roman circuses or menageries of exotic animals, which were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, but were in existence as far back as medieval times.

And some believe they are similar to the Black Dog legend, folklore in several parts of the country, including Dartmoor.

The legend has many variations, but some say a sighting of such a dog is a sign of death. These cats may be modern-day "spectres" or phantoms, Ms Harpur suggests.

But for Gloucestershire police's wildlife and environmental crime officer Mark Robson, the Dangerous Wild Animal Act theory is the most likely explanation.

There have now been so many sightings - and in different parts of the county - he is sure these cats exist and are quite likely reproducing.

He has developed a contingency plan for police officers to follow should such a cat pose a risk to the public, and other forces' wildlife protection officers are "slowly coming on board", he says.

Gloucestershire has had around 40 to 50 sightings in the last year, with most describing a leopard with a "dirty black" coat.

But descriptions are vague as most people do not get near them, he says.

Even so spotting such a beast will always be quite rare, while currently they pose no real risk to the public.

"They will see and smell you before you get near them. You have to be really, really unlucky to get that close to put yourself in danger," he said.


*The Beast of Bodmin Moor - Spotted on and off for 20 years

*The Exmoor Beast - First sighted in the early 1980s

*The Leicestershire Big Cat - Footage of the beast was shot by a farmer at Measham

*The Telford Puma - Caught on CCTV in 1999, the RSPCA believed it was a puma

*The Beast of Gloucester - First reports in 1993, it has appeared around the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean

*The Pontardawe Puma - Spotted near Pont Abraham services - at the end of the M4

*The Beast of Barnet - Three sightings in two days of a puma-like creature in 1998

*The Dartmoor Lion - Armed police searched Dartmoor in 1998. A six inch (15cm) paw print was positively identified as belonging to a big cat

*Beast North of the Border - Big cats are frequently spotted in the highlands of Scotland and recently in Fife

*The Terror of Trellech - In 2000, an 11-year-old boy was attacked by a "leopard-like" animal near his home in Trellech, Monmouthshire
I dunno.....does anyone else think this UK "OMG there is a big bad puddy cat" thing is weird?
Are the sightings of the big, black cats related to the ghostly black dogs of English folklore? Nearly every English county (and, to a lesser extent, Scotland and Wales) has its own version of ghostly black dog -

Phantom black dogs - most of them described as evil - have been sighted iun England for hundreds of years.

Stories of phantom black dogs abound in Britain, almost every county has its own variant, from the Black Shuck of East Anglia to the Padfoot and Bogey Beast of Yorkshire. Phantom black dogs have been witnessed too frequently in modern times to parcel the phenomena as pure folklore and legend, but then folklore and legend often has origins in real events. There are various theories to explain the phenomena and they seem to have many common traits from sighting to sighting.

In appearance the phantoms vary from region to region, but it is not uncommon for them to be described as calf sized, with saucer eyes and a shaggy coat. Phantom dogs are not always black however, the one that is supposed to haunt the area around Cawthorpe and Haugham in Lincolnshire, is described as white, but still has saucer eyes and is as big as calf. The Cu Sith, the traditional fairy dog of Scotland is dark green in colour, with a shaggy tail up its back. Black dogs are more often than not associated with a specific location such as an old trackway or lane, this is sometimes reflected in the name of the routeway, although not every 'Black Dog Lane' has a tradition of the haunting.

There have been some attempts at classification; the folklorist Theo Brown divided the black dog phenomena into three separate types A, B and C. (A) Being a shape-shifting demon dog; (B) being a dark black dog calf sized with shaggy fur; and (C) a dog that appears in time with certain ancient festivals in specific areas of the country. Katherine Briggs, the renowned folklorist, splits these further into demon dogs, the ghosts of human beings and the ghosts of dogs in their own right.

In local traditions the black dogs sightings are seen as death portents, especially those seen in ancient churchyards in the form of the Church or Kirk Grim (Kirk being the Scottish word for Church), which is thought to represent a folk memory of a sacrifice. The black dog that used to haunt Peel castle and a nearby graveyard on the Isle of Man, is one such grim, it is said to have scared a sentry to death. Other sightings from the South of England, have been related to coincidental sudden deaths. The next two accounts relate to actual deaths by a black dog over four hundred years ago, although it is likely both events were the result of ball lightning:

A weather vane in Bungay Market in Suffolk depicts a black dog and a flash of lighting, it commemorates an event on Sunday the 4th of August 1577. Between nine and ten in the morning while the parishioners of Bungay were at church, a fearful and violent storm broke out, which caused the sky to darken and the church to quake. Suddenly, in the midst of the storm, a black dog appeared within church. Lit by flashes of fire, it ran about the body of the church causing great fear and panic. It passed between two people kneeling at prayer, killing them instantly, and caused another man to shrivel up, severely burned, although he is said to have survived.

About seven miles away in Blythburgh, at around the same time, another black dog (or the same phenomena) appeared in the parish church preceded by the same thunderstorm. This black dog struck three people dead and left scorch marks on the North church door, which can still be seen today.

These two examples suggest phenomena related to the weather conditions, perhaps some form of little understood ball lighting, substantiated by the fact that one person was burned, and the scorch marks on the church door. It is difficult to make any snap judgements because of the long span of time involved from the recorded events.

Other phantom dogs are more benevolent and stories exist of people being helped from tight spots. For example Augustus Hare in his book 'In My Solitary Life' recounts a common tale he heard about a man called Johnnie Greenwood, of Swancliffe. Johnnie had to ride through a wood in darkness for a mile to get to where he was going. At the entrance of the wood he was joined by a black dog, it pattered beside him until he emerged from the trees, whereupon it disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.

On his return journey through the wood, the dog joined him again on the dark woodland path, and disappeared mysteriously when he emerged. Apparently, some years later, two prisoners condemned to death confessed that they had decided to rob and murder Johnny that night in the wood, but the presence of the large black dog had stopped them.

Black dogs often seem to haunt ancient lanes, trackways, crossroads, old churchyards and prehistoric sites. Many of these places were associated with local superstitions and the uncanny, they are liminal places, where the veil between worlds was thought to be thin. The haunts of the black dogs are also features said to denote ley lines, it has been suggested that they represent some form of energy or natural phenomena moulded by the mind into an archetype of the black dog. A great deal of work has been done by earth mystery researchers to suggest that certain geophysical conditions may affect the human mind. These places were recognised by ancient man, and that is why black dogs (as some form of archetype) appear at places of ancient sanctity. This same theory has been applied to other unexplained phenomena.

Gallows sites (often crossroads) were also common black dog haunts, the black dog was often seen as the spirit of the executed criminal, such as the dog said to haunt a gallows site in Tring, Hertfordshire: An old woman was drowned for witchcraft at Tring in the year 1751. A chimney sweep was held responsible in part for the killing, and was hanged and gibbeted near to the place of the crime. A black dog came to haunt the place where the gibbet stood, and was seen by the village schoolmaster. He described it as being shaggy, as big as a Newfoundland, with long ears and a tail, eyes of flaming fire and long teeth. It is interesting to note that at first the black dog appeared as a standing flame. Flames and scorched earth being another aspect associated with sightings.

Black dogs are also seen as guardians of treasure, especially in Scotland. A black dog was said to guard treasure buried under a standing stone near Murthley in Perthshire, here we have an account of a black dog at an ancient site and as a guardian of treasure.

In summery it seems that the phenomena of phantom dogs is a complex mix of folklore, sightings, and local superstition, which has roots reaching far into the past. There are probably a myriad of different explanations for modern sightings, and a phantom black dog is a powerful archetype, incorporated into modern stories such as the 'Hound of the Baskervilles' by Arthur Conan Doyle. We hope to delve into the mystery further in the future, including some of the many folk tales associated with them.

Some names in different counties:

Bogey Beast, Lancashire
Bargheust, Yorkshire and the North
Black Shuck, East Anglia
Capelthwaite, Westmorland (Cumbria)
Cu Sith, Highlands (Dark Green)
Gallytrot, Suffolk
Gurt Dog, Somerset
Hairy Jack, Lincolnshire
Mauthe Dog, (Mauthe Doog) Scotland
Old Shock or Shuck (Black Shuck), Suffolk
Padfoot, Yorkshire
Pooka, Ireland
Skriker, Lancashire, Yorkshire

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