I popped onto the BBC website the other day and look at what I found; a deer carcass found in Stroud is being tested for ‘big cat activity’. Since moving to the West of England I have found the idea of big cats in our countryside intriguing. Never before, though, had I heard of them being in Gloucestershire.
So I did what anyone else would have done; I googled big Cotswold cats.
Big cats have escaped into the British countryside from zoos and circuses, although the biggest influx probably came from the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 which resulted in big cat ‘pets’ being released into the wild as their owners could no longer afford to keep them or had the room to conform to the new law. They released their precious pets into the wild rather than euthanise them. They did this legally – it only became illegal to release wild animals into the countryside in the early 1980s.
The cats have bred over the years and are now into the third, if not fourth, generations of big cats. Many different species are said to have been spotted including;
· Panthers (most common)
· Lynx (originally native to Britain and some have been released back into the wild in Scotland)
· Jungle Cat
The cats are secretive by nature and stay away from confrontation which is why sightings are so rare. Territories can also be vast making cats hard to pin down. The websites listed below suggest that the best time to see the big cats is during August, September and October when harvesting takes away a lot of their cover.
Big cats mainly eat rabbits; however when rabbits are scarce, sheep and deer will be killed. Many sheep and deer carcasses have been found with evidence of a big cat killing.
In Britain, there is space for the cats to spread out and for each cub to find its own territory. With no predators to compete with, the big cats are thriving.
While it is wonderful, mystical even, to think that there are big cats roaming the British countryside, many photos have been found to have been hoaxes. No kill or sighting has ever been confirmed, although nine attacks have been verified. Although it is completely believable that cat sightings would be low due to a big cat’s superior hearing and speed, why has a big cat corpse not been found? Nearly four decades after the cats were released into the wild, shouldn’t their existence be confirmed by now?
The answer to this conundrum, according to some, is that the MOD is covering up their existence. The author of ‘Big Cats: Facing Britain’s Wild Predators’, Rick Minter has claimed that the body of a large black cat is being kept in an MOD vault in North Yorkshire, a claim which the MOD has refused to comment on.
This might just be a romantic theory but why not indulge in it, until the existence of wild big cats is confirmed and becomes a reality. I know what I’ll be doing later this year – camera and binoculars at the ready.
The two most indulgent websites that I found were;