Left - Hary Matthews photo taken in 1998 of an unusual cat on Cooling marshes.I have just come back from giving a lecture today in Gravesend on the 'mystery animals of Kent', and the feedback, as always ranges from stunned, to spooked, with many of the sceptics in the audience impressed by the evidence I presented. I also noticed that in today's edition of The Guardian newspaper, that a deer carcass, which many people believed had been killed by a 'big cat', in Gloucestershire, had been confirmed as being killed by a dog then scavenged by a fox. This wasn't a surprise to me, despite many people being adamant it had been a cat kill, but the DNA analysis proved otherwise. It's great that 'authorities' are, at times, when they have the time and in some instances the money, analysing alleged evidence of 'big cat' activity because people often say to me that there is no evidence whatsoever that large cats exist in the UK. I find it strange that with so much evidence that the 'big cat' situation is regarded as a mystery and relegated to folklore. Even more bizarre, when evidence is presented to the sceptical eye, they refuse to believe it, even if a majority of disbelievers don't actually know what they are looking at. Some people would scoff at it even if it bit them on the nose and this type of ignorance isn't healthy to any situation.
When walking through the woods it's important to know what you are looking at in regards to native species as well as possible non-native species. It's vital when examining possible 'big cat' evidence, to eliminate every other possibility. In the south-east of England we have foxes, deer, badger, dogs, domestic cats, squirrels, and countless other animals, many which are rarely seen. In parts of Kent and Sussex there are also wild boar and wallaby - bizarrely these animals are also dismissed by sceptics even though they've bene photographed and filmed.
Most people would think that surely the best evidence to support the existence of a 'big cat' cat would be to film it - this is far easier said than done even in today's climate with people walkinga round with mobile phones etc. The problem is, a leopard or puma is an incredibly elusive animal, they can hear, se and smell a human, and often keep their distance. A majority of sightings are so brief and usually involve motorists travelling late at night or during the early hours, or people walking their dog etc. A cat often sticks to hedgreows, tree-lines etc and hunt under the cloak of night - no-one drives with their phone at the ready and if your security light comes on at night the last thing you expect to see in your garden is a black leopard. Even so, many people nowadays are using trigger camera's which they are setting up across the country - this is fine, but it seems that some people just want to film the local 'beast' to make some money out of it and to allegedly 'be the first'. In Kent there have been a few cases where cats have been caught on film, but across the UK film footage does exist - in 2011 a Jungle Cat was filmed crossing a road in the Meopham area near Gravesend. In 1998 Harry Matthews took a photo of an unusual cat on marshes at Cooling. Bizarrely, this photo has appeared on several websites (in other words, stolen) with people claiming it's the 'beast of Bodmin' etc. The cat in the photo is no 'big cat', but it could well be a Jungle Cat or a hybrid of Jungle Cat/domestic cat. Bizarrely, the local news channels at the time when covering the story of the photo claimed it was the 'beast of Blue Bel Hill' even though the animal was seen on the other side of the river, and clearly wasn't something akin to a black leopard. In 1994 a holiday-maker claimed he'd filmed a large black cat at Aylesford Priory, a few miles outside of Maidstone. I'm of the opinion that most footage of so-called 'big cats' will be ridiculed because sceptics expect someone to walk up to a leopard and photograoh it from a few feet away, this is highly unlikely to occur. For me we must look at what I consider to be the best evidence for 'big cats' in the wild, the sheep and deer kills. The photo's here are proof that farmers do lose sheep, and that deer are certainly high on the menu - wherever the deer move so do the cats, and it'ss even more amazing when deer and sheep are found high up in trees. Leopards take their prey into trees, as discussed in the last post. Whilst deer and sheep make an ideal meal for a cat, there is far easier prey to catch - rats, mice, birds, squirrels, foxes - sceptics expect there to be thousands of slaughtered sheep but this isn't the case, but there are cases throughout the south-east where farmers have succumbed to severe livestock losses.
This sheep was killed not far from Blue Bell Hill. When a leopard kills its prey it often goes for the throat leaving puncture marks. A large cat rasps the fleece/fur and leaves a very clean kill. No other animal kills in this fashion - foxes do not bring deer down, and certainly do not stash them in trees! The farmer who lost this sheep had never, in 40 years of farming lost a sheep before. In the same area other farmers had lost a few sheep in similar fashion.
In most cases of large prey, the head is left untouched, birds tend to peck the eyes and foxes will scavenge. It does not take long for a carcass of an animal to disappear in the wild.
These type of photo's can appear gruesome and finding a carcass like this in the middle of a deep, dark wood can be quite eerie, especially if the carcass appears relatively fresh. Quite recently I investigated a sheep carcss in the Rokvencden area, after a lady walking her dog had seen an enormous black cat walk into the churchyard in the village. The next day the woman found a carcass - all that was left was the skull and the spine, the ribs has been sheared off and scavengers had done the rest. In 1998 I found a carcass of a goat in a relatively built up area on the outskirts of Rochester. The goat had been licked clean and birds had taken the eyes. A large cat often stalks its prey, and will sit in an area, iften away from the flock before making its move. Sheep are sometimes carried to the edge of a field and eaten. I'm sure that if sheep could talk they'd have some pretty scary experiences to speak of!
This photo shows a ram kill in Sussex, it was taken by a farmer named Graham Bennett. He'd been losing a couple of rams a week for around five months!
I have hundreds of similar photo's to this, some of small dogs, others domestic cats, deer, etc and they are all killed in the same way. When dogs attack they can be extremely spiteful, biting the face, the legs, and will rarely eat a sheep, and scavengers tend to pluck bits from the carcass afterwards. In Paddock Wood a few years ago a farmer found most of his flock had been mauled - this had been the work of dogs. The faces of the sheep had been bitten but the carcasses remained untouched elsewhere.
The next blog will look at other evidence such as 'scat' (faeces), and paw prints.