A majority of people who see so-called 'big cats' in the wilds of Britain, are usually walking or driving alone. When these people report their sightings they are ridiculed, but on the occasion there are sightings which involve two or more witnesses. As I mentioned in a previous post there have been numerous sightings over the Easter period of so-called 'big cats' across the south-east and I've received around 10 sightings in three days, 9 of these have been in broad daylight. A majority of these are under investigation. However, when I receive reports of 'big cats' people often ask me if their children are safe to go out in the woods. I can understand why some parents are unsettled by the possibility of a large, predatory cat roaming their backyard. Today was one of those days. In the last two days I've had 3 reports of exotic cats involving small children. One of these came from the wooded areas of Sittingbourne, and involved a group of small children playing in woods near their houses. All of them came running home screaming, telling a parent they'd seen a large cat. One of the children said it was a "jaguar". Now, there are no jaguars roaming the UK, but after speaking with the worried parent it became clear the children had seen a lynx. Interestingly enough they all described, separately, the white underside of the animal as it gazed at them as it sat on a log. They all described a yellowy-orange coat, which had unusual mottled markings. (Left - Mick Cole claimed these wounds were inflicted by a lynx he cornered)
The lynx was said to have been eradicated from Britain's a woodlands a few thousand years ago. Some researchers believe it was an elusive enough animal to have hung on until modern times, but this has never been verified. We do know, however, that in the early 19th century a lynx was shot dead toward the West Country, and many 'big cat' researchers often quote naturlist William Cobbet who in his Rural Rides book spoke of seeing a large cat in a tree at Waverley in Surrey a few centuries ago - although this animal may have been the wildcat, now confined to Scotland. The lynx is a beautiful leggy animal, known for its short almost tuft of a tail, its tufted ears, and striking mottled coat. I had the fortune to share a cage with a lynx a few years ago whilst working with the BBC, and these animals are incredibly elusive.
It's highly unlikely the lynx seen in Sittingbourne was eyeing up the children for dinner. The animal was seen not far from a pheasant pen, and such birds would be ideal prey for a cat. I can certainly understand the concern of parents though when their children run home screaming they've seen a big cat in their woods. Parents want people like me to do something about it, but I cannot take the law into my own hands and build a cage and attempt to trap an animal. It's a catch 22 situation. I always advise that people do not approach, corner, injure such animals, and yet at the back of my mind there is always that worry that one day, just one day a large cat will strike at a child. Take for instance the case a few years ago now of Gravesend man Mick Cole who allegedly walked into his back garden and saw what he first took to the be a fox with a rabbit in its mouth. Mick, an optician, approached the animal which allegedly took a swipe at his hand leaving several nasty gashes. Some would say the witness should have gone to Specsavers, but joking aside, if this really did happen then we have a problem. The animal was simply defending itself, no wild animal should be cornered. Fair play to Mr Cole, he said it was his own fault, but if this had bene a child can you imagine the uproar it would have caused, especially when you consider the controversy recent alleged fox attacks have caused.
In 2005 a man living in Sydenham, south-east London, claimed that he was leapt upon one night, by a black leopard, which was in his back garden cornering his domestic cat. There's no evidence whatsoever to suggest this story was nothing more than a hoax but it didn't stop the press and the police swarming the scene looking fot he 'beast of Sydenham'. There was also a report over Easter concerning a young girl who whilst walking home to her house in rural Maidstone saw a very large black cat pacing back and forth near a dead tree. The girl was petrified and told her parents who phoned me. Then, several more people reported seeing a massive black cat near Blue Bell Hill. The animal had been quite happy to visit a few back gardens.
I'd hate to think what the response would be if a child claimed they'd been scratched by a large cat. Mind you, a few years ago a Josh Hopkins, who lives in Gloucestershire claimed he was scratched by a black leopard which clawed him across his face. Interestingly, apart from the newspapers, no-one else seemed to respond to this alleged encounter. Are the authorities happy for this to continue, or are they waiting for the time when a large cat actually attacks and eats a child ? In the United States with cougar, and in Africa and Asia, with leopard, attacks are rare but they do occur. Strangely, in the UK most attacks on humans, especially children, are carried out by dogs, and whilst these cause uproar, there appears to be no real against people owning such dangerous animals. Leopard and puma are, of course, a different matter, they shouldn't be here. At the moment such animals seem very comfortable with the UK wilds, and there is easily enough prey to support a viable, albeit small population. A few years ago I liaised with professional animal trapper and tracker, zoologist Quentin Rose (who sadly passed away) and he always looked beyond the silly mystery and scepticism regarding these 'big cats' and was concerned about the rise in numbers and potential attacks on humans. He believed that such animals required an official investigation but also stated quite categorically that this would involve trapping such animals and either shipping them to zoo parks or destroying them. I don't condone either of these methods and this seems unlikely to happen due to lack of time and resources from the groups concerned. Even so, an attack on a person, especially a child may change all this.
For now, there are only two opinins on 'big cats' in the UK - they do exist or they don't, and it doesn't go anywhere beyond this. Official groups, such as 'Natural England', have stated in the past that there's no evidence to suggest such animals exist, this is a rather worrying statement considering the amount of evidence that does exist. Sceptics state that these stories are made up yet haven't a clue about what 'big cat' evidence looks like, and then there are the believers, most who are quite genuine people who've simply gone out of their way to report something unusual. Of course, the situation brings with it the weirdo's and conspiracy theorists and paranormal views, and most mysteries do have that effect, but when you cast aside the nutcases, hoaxes, and misinterpretations, there's still a significant body of evidence to suggest there are black leoard, puma, lynx, and some smaller species of cats roaming the UK. As I always state, no evidence is good enough, and even if a child - perish the thought - is attacked, I'm sure someone will scoff, or dismiss the case or claim it was simply an escapee. One part of me hopes the dreaded attack will never occur and that these cats are left alone - in that case the sceptics can continue to bitch, but there's another part of me that wants to see official investigations, which will cost enormous amounts of money, and possibly involve trapping some of these cats for the sake of science.
I recently read another of those predictable blog posts from someone claiming that 'big cat' sightings were hyperbole (exaggeration). That's fine by me, it's your opinion, but try telling that to four screaming kids and a terrified and deeply concerned parent. I'm sure there are many people out there willing to laugh at 'big cat' sightings and my research, but when I present evidence such as deer found high up in trees, rams and their fleece rasped off, large chains of scat consisting of deer fur, scratch marks 10 feet up a tree, enormous paw prints unlike a dog, then I expect the sceptic to tell me the alternative as to what did this and instead of sitting behind a PC saying what can and cannot be, try getting out there and looking at the evidence and interviewing the witnesses you claim are insane or making all this up. At the moment, my money is on the very likely possibility there are large cats around. I'll prove to you there is, but can you prove to me there isn't ?
(Left - lynx shot in Northern Ireland in the 1990s)