Left - domestic cat photographed at Sussex.Over the last two days I've conducted two lectures to more than 300 people, and it's always amazing how many people come forward to report sightings of 'big cats' that otherwise they would have kept quiet. Witnesses come from all walks of life but it does help when someone who sees a 'big cat' has had some experience with differing species of cat. One chap came forward to say that a few years ago whilst walking at Pembury he'd seen a black leopard - I completely trusted his opinion as he'd worked with leopards many years ago. In the last few weeks there have been sightings of lynx and leopard from varying parts of Kent - Longfield (lynx), Dartford (black leopard), Sjeppey (black leopard), Sevenoaks (lynx) and Hempstead, near Gillingham (black leopard), Sitingbourne (black leopard) and in most cases I could say that I trusted the witnesses and their descriptions. However, it must be said that not all witnesses know what they are seeing, and too many times photographs and blurry film footga eof alleged 'big cats' makes its way onto websites and into newspapers when the reality is the images clearly show nothing more than domestic cats. This is very frutrating. I recall a few years ago one of the reputable (!) tabloids featured a photo on its front page of an alleged 'big cat' perched on a wall, whilst several cows grazed near it. The paper at the time claimed the photo showed the 'beast of Bodmin' and yet anyone with half a brain could tell it was a domestic cat - the shortness of the tail, the small pointed ears 9which happened to be close together), the short legs etc, etc. This happens all the time, and time and time again it allows the sceptics to make a mockery of decent research.
I present here a handful of images taken by people who claimed they'd seen a 'big cat' - naturally, some people will have genuine misinterpretations of dogs, feral cats, foxes etc, but the first image, taken at Jevington, Sussex, a few years ago, is interesting because the witness was adamant he'd photographed a black leopard. The photo made the local newspaper and yet clearly shows a domestic cat - even from a domestic cat anyone with a good eye should be able to tell the different between a leopard and a domestic cat - even a leopard cub shouldn't be confused with a domestic cat. The leopard has a long, curving tail, rounded ears, a muscular frame, especially in the shoulder and measures between 4 - 7 feet in length. Even a large domestic cat cannot match the description of a 'big cat'.
Left - the 'blob' of Sheppey - a domestic cat.The next image was taken at Sheppey not long ago, and I don't blame the witnesses for photographing it. The image shows a black dot in the distance, sitting at the edge of a field, stalking prey, but again, despite being a poor photo it does not show a black leopard. Also, another image more recently was passed around varying sources after someone claimed to have photographed the 'beast of Essex' and yet once again it is simply an unusual species of domestic cat. Whilst there are known to be smaller exotic cats in the UK - such as leopard cat, jungle cat, ocelot, and possibly caracal, and even jaguarundi, the photographs that appear in numerous papers etc, clearly do not show anything remotely exotic. It baffles me why newspapers etc use such images. Last year a paper down in East Kent sent me several photographs of a 'black cat' slinking along a street in the early hours of a morning. The reporter asked me what I thought about the "interesting photo's" andI just burst out laughing. The photo's clearly showed a domestic ca, nothing more nothing less, and yet several members of staff at the paper were sure this was a big cat. I get so many photo's sent to me by people who claim they've photographed 'big cats', and 99% of the time the images are of domestic animals, nearly always a moggy skulking along the edge of a field. Last year I visited a lady in Northfleet after she phoned me to say she'd photographed a puma in her back garden. I refuse to gte excited about any call until I fully investigate further, and in most cases photo's, and even a lot of sightings turn out to be nothing. Even so, I travelled to Northfleet and chatted with the lovely lady who showed me where in her garden this 'puma' had been and then she produced the photo - a domestic cat, albeit a rather matted loking one, sitting on a paving slab in her garden. The paving slab, in length, measured about 12 inches, hardly a monster cat! I asked the woman if she knew what a puma was, and she said, "Yes, that's one in the photo!"
Left - the 'beast of Essex' - simply an unusual species of domestic.I'm sure to this day she still has the photo and probably tells her family and friends it's a big cat and that I was mad for dismissing it, but as I always say to people, regarding 'big cat' evidence, you have to eliminate everything else first before considering 'big cat'. Another image I was sent came from a Mr Owens and reported seeing an unual spotted cat roaming around the outside of his property at Goudhurst. When he sent the photo I was amazed to see a lovely Bengal Cat. The striking markings, long tail, and muscular shoulder didn't suggest a 'big cat' but certainly an expensive pet that had obviously escaped from somewhere. The Bengal Cat is hybrid of domestic cat and leopard cat, and is a formidable predator in the wild but will be more than happy to show itself to humans. Nowadays such cats are kept as pets, and other forms of smaller exotic cats are also doing the rounds, some costing around £12,000! Not the sort of animal you'd want to escape from your house.
One must always remember that on too many occasions ohotographs that appear in newspapers or on internet sites and even on the news, are dubious to say the least, and if such an animal doesn't look like a leopard then it most likely isn't. It's always great to receive photographs of posisble 'big cats' and their evidence, but always try to get some type of scale when photographing animals from a distance, don't just take one photo, and if you can, try to approach, or at least, if the animal moves out of sight, go to the area and get a photo of you standing there, to judge height etc. Only recently film footage showing an alleged 'big cat' at Gloucestershire was palstered all over the main news (even though the footage was taken over a year previous) and to prove it was a 'big cat' the local researcher visited the area with a cardboard cut-out of what I presume was meant to be a 'big cat' although it looked like a deformed domestic cat. These are the sort of problems in judging scale etc, but hopefully the photo's I've presented here will give you an idea of what not to look for! Below, beautiful Bengal cat photographed in Kent in 2009.