I see that on The Sun website there is more debatable footage of an alleged 'big cat'. It's rather frustrating when people come forward and state that such 'evidence' is "the most conclusive" despite the fact that so many pieces of film footage are shot from a distance and are often blurry. Any sceptic would have the right to argue at such a piece of film, and so many of these types of footage seem to be floating around on You Tube and the like....but these would be the last place I'd submit footage. What is clear is that in the UK...and the same as Australia, there are a lot of large feral cats, a few years ago in Australia a man shot a feral cat that was four-feet in length! Even so, a feral/domestic cat does not look like a puma or leopard, but in my opinion any footage that is blurry or debatable shouldn't be put forward as evidence. It's great that people are roaming the countryside with camera's but to get close enough to a predatory cat requires patience and a lot of luck, but it is also dangerous and that's the concern that many people seem to be forgetting amid the mystery.
Many people ask the question, Where the hell do all these cats come from ? There is quite a simple set of answers on this question and there's no real mystery. Sadly, the mystery of the topic is all that people want. Over the years people looking into the subject have come to the conclusion that there are more than 1000 'big cats' roaming the UK - this is a laughable statistic and wildly off the mark. It's certainly fair to say that it's impossible to judge how many puma, leopard, lynx etc there are, but to say there are a 1000 is ridiculous. Only a year or so ago it was claimed that 13...yes, 13, black leopards were roaming the Romney Marsh area of Kent...where do people get this sort of information! Having researched this subject since the early '80s I've seen only a steady rise in numbers, which would be correct if say a female black leopard had produced between 1and 8 cubs in her short lifespan. There isn't one female on heat scouring the countryside, and whilst every county DOES have a 'big cat' legend, we can only guess that there are small but viable populations. If the country was running alive with 'big cats', as some newspaper headlines claimed recently, then we'd have a majr problem. Whether people like the theory or not, it is a fact that a majority of the animals seen today are offspring of animals from animals released in the '60s,'70s and early '80s around the time of the '76 Dangerous Wild Animals Act. My research has proven that in a majority of English counties in the '60s, people owned puma, lynx and black leopard - lions were also purchased - the most popular story concerning the lion cub, Christian, purchased from Harrords in London. A majority of folk who purchased exotic cats - usually as cute and cuddly cubs/kittens, didn't go to the newspapers with their pets, they kept them in their front room, in shoddy basements, and only a few cases were actually highlighted by the media. In my 2009 book Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Kent I listed thousands of eye witness reports of exotic cats across the south-east and examined some of the theories. My recently published follow up, Mystery Animals of the British Isles: London also looked at several cases of animals being kept as pets. For example, there's the case of the chap who walked into his pub in London in 1974 with his pet puma on a lead. The cat became very agitated ripping apart the upholstery of the pub. The man was eventually fined. In another incident a man purchased a puma kitten for his children and it attacked a child. A lion 'playfully' leapt on a woman as she was walking down a London street, and another man owned a serval - an African hunting cat - which bit a friend in a restaurant. These cases are not rare. In the '60s and '70s it was quite common to own an exotic cat - as well as a menagerie of exotic animals, from monkeys, to reptiles. One man ordered a rhino from Harrods! These animals were simply an extension of someone's ego, a status symbol, a novel pet - just like terrapins, snakes and baby alligators have bene over the years. When the 1976 Dangerous Animals Act was introduced it is a known fact that people DID release their pets. A puma kitten or leopard cub could easily survive in the wilds of England. I've no doubt that the Surrey puma legend began due to a cat that had been released from a private collection - although this does not explain the mystery creature seen around Coulsdon in the 1800s! Even so, whilst lions and larger cats were purchased, it was the smaller cats, especially lynx and puma and jungle cat, whic were released, and the black leopard was certainly the iconic animal to own in the '60s. You'll find that in almost every case, if not all, regarding tigers, lions etc, escaping, they've either been recaptured or shot dead. One fascinating case from the '70s, regarding Kent involved a Mr Fred Lloyd, who, whilst fishing on the banks of the River Medway at East Peckham, on 5th Jan' 1974, got the shock of his life when a black leopard cub rolled out of the bushes. "I grabbed it by the scruff of the neck", Fred told the newsppaers that covered the incident, "...and shoved it straight into my fishing box."
The animal hissed and growled and so Mr Lloyd took it home and put it in a play-pen but the animal proceeded to destroy it and so he transfered it to a beer crate. Mr Lloyd phoned several zoo parks but they, bizarrely, laughed at him. 24 hours later an RSPCA Inspector arrived on the scene but no-one came forward to say they'd lost a 'panther'. Weirdly, a 'panther' cub, caled Zar had allegedly been stolen from a zoo in Essex on 4th January, but there's no evidence to suggest this was the same cat - thought to be worth in the region of £600. It seems highly unlikely this was the same animal, and this may well have been the first case on record where someone actually captured a leopard cub that had been born in the wilds of England. On 22nd Jan' 1975 The Daily Mirror ran a story concerning a London man who had split up from his wife and so decided to leave his aggravated pet puma in the back garden of his former home. Westminster MP, Peter Templemore, when commenting to the press stated, "Sooner or later someone will get killed", and yet three decades later we find that we've not moved on in our progress at offisially recognising the situation we have in the UK regarding so-called 'big cats'. A puma escaped from a garden in Byton, Hertfordshire on 1st Jan' 1975 - it was never confirmed as to whether to animal was recaptured. These sort of cases are numerous, and again, prove that people were keeping such animals across the country and certainly when the 1976 Act was introduced, a majority of people did not give their animals to zoo parks and certainly did not destroy their 'pets', and so they released them. Even so, there is no evidence of bizarre cross-bred cats out there, so there'd certainly have to be enough of each species for there to be a viable population today, and this is the case. In the 1940s an Orpington man, as a child, was given a present by his father who'd been abroad on war duty. The man was given a cute black cat which decided to eat the next door neighbours cat. The family did not have a clue what sort of cat they had and so asked a vet who stated quite categorically that it was a 'panther' cub. With that, the father went straight to the most remote woodland he knew and released the animal. Only a decade or so ago a man from Torquay, in Devon, phoned police to say say he'd released his "black puma" but wouldn't say where as he didn't want such a "beautiful" animal hunted. Again, these are quite common occurrences. However, these cases do not explain the reports which date back more than a century.
During the Victorian era many people had private menagerie's and travelling zoo's. Barnum, Wombwell, Bostock, Jamrach, just a few well known showmen who would exhibit all manner of curious creatures and oddments to draw in the gullible crowds. However, in my book Mystery Animals of....London I highlighted many, many cases of animals escaping into the wilds, one involving a leopard that escaped in Camden, and even a tiger that grabbed a small child. These are not stories concocted by sensational headlines, despit the fact that newspapers have always sought out a beastly tale or two. If one takes the time to trawl countless archives - and it is an exhaustive process - you'd be amazed at how many stories there are concerning not just exotic cats escaping/being released into the wilds, but a whole host of animals - from wallabies, monkeys, snakes, birds of prey, and not al of these were recaptured or shot dead. There has been a legend around Blue Bell Hill of a large, elusive animal for at leats 400 hundred years! That's a long, long time. Old records know the legend as the 'great dogge' but this beast was said to roam parts of Trottiscliffe too two hundred years later, but one one occasion this 'lean, grey' animal with 'prick't ears' was said to have killed a man who was walking on the Pilgrims Way. There were also rumours of a black leopard being shot near Burham in the 1930s. I was told this information by a Mr Cuckow many years ago because as a child, he, and a few other friends actually saw this happen. They believed it may have escaped the local zoo at Maidstone which was run by Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt Drake but this was never confirmed. Interestingly, I recently read of this case in a new book called Big Cats just a shame the author couldn't have mentioned that he got the information from me! It's also worth noting that even the Roman's housed large cats - but not the puma - in their vast amphitheatre's, and there is also legend that during the wars some pilots brought over exotic cats as mascots, and were then told to shot them but may have released them instead, but this has never been proven and certainly wouldn't account for the amount of sightings there have been. Again, we have to look at consistency and in my two books I've highlighted so many cases that even the most sceptical person would find difficult to debunk.
So, there you have it...a brief explanation as to where black leopard, puma, lynx etc have come from. Interesting to note as well that I've never, in all my years of conducting this research, received a sighting of a leopard with normal pelage. Black leopard parents only produce black offspring, due to a recessive gene, and over the course of a few decades the rosette pattern will gradually seem to phase out due to the density of the darkness. The strain is less dominant in squirrels, but in the leopard in the UK it appears very dominant. I'm happy to consider that we may have leopards of the normal pelage but again, there needs to be consistency in reports for me to take this into consideration. The same also goes for animals with varying coat markings which do not seem to fit in with conventional markings.
Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Kent and Mystery Animals of the British Isles: London are available from Amazon and can also be ordered from bookshops such as Waterstone's.