British big cats, also known as ABCs, (Alien Big Cats or Anomalous Big Cats,) phantom cats and mystery cats, are Felidae not native to Britain, roaming the Countryside. Their existence is subject to much debate, both from the public and scientific community. Those sighted are often reportedly "panthers", "pumas", or "black cats".
Annual statistics of sightings and reports are published by The Big Cats in Britain research network.
|1||History and origins|
|1.1||Escaped or released animals that have gone feral|
|2.1||Captures and remains|
|2.2||Video and photographic evidence|
|3||Hoaxes and misidentifications|
|4||The possible species of British big cats|
History and origins
Many theories exist of how these animals have come to possibly inhabit Britain. Surviving Ice Age fauna, or even that the cats have a supernatural origin. Some of these ideas are considered to be more credible than others, and some receive much more publicity than others. These are some of the major theories so far put forward:
Escaped or released animals that have gone feral
Cats could have been released after the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 came into force.
In the 1760s the great radical writer, William Cobbett recalled in his Rural Rides how, as a boy, he had seen a cat 'as big as a middle-sized Spaniel dog' climb into a hollow elm tree in the grounds of the ruined Waverley Abbey near Farnham in Surrey. Later, in New Brunswick, he saw a 'lucifee' (North American lynx – Felis lynx canadensis) 'and it seemed to me to be just such a cat as I had seen at Waverley.'. Another old report was found by David Walker from The Times in 1827 of a "lynx" being seen.
Farther back there is a medieval Welsh poem "Pa Gwr" in the Black Book of Carmarthen which mentions a Cath Palug "Palug's cat" or "clawing cat" which roamed Anglesey until slain by Cei. In the Welsh Triads, it was the offspring of the monstrous sow Henwen. However the first regular sightings of big cats in Britain were in the 1960s, and since then they have been gradually increasing over the past 40 years to the present.
Captures and remains
In July 2005 a farmer in North Devon discovered a large cat's skull, which has since been identified as a puma's. It was apparently taken for scientific analysis, though no results have ever been released. It follows many reports of cats in the area (Beast of Exmoor), and even a report of a farmer shooting and later burying a puma.
A Eurasian lynx was shot in summer 1991 near Norwich, Norfolk. It had killed around 15 sheep within two weeks. The story was only reported in 2003, and the lynx is apparently now in the possession (as taxidermy) of a collector in Suffolk. For many years this incident was considered to have been a hoax, particularly by the hunting community, But in March 2006 a police report confirmed that the case was true. It was probably an escapee from a facility in the area that bred animals including Eurasian lynxes.
Video and photographic evidence
Many photographs have been taken of "cats" over the years, nearly all indeterminate, some fakes. In recent years indeterminate evidence has also come from CCTV cameras.
In June 2006 a large black cat was filmed in the countryside of Banff, Aberdeenshire. Footage of the cat was broadcast by the BBC on 24 May 2007. The cat filmed has been assumed to exemplify the characteristics of a small panther or lynx and meets the accounts given in separate sightings.
It is impossible to establish how many people have seen big cats in the UK, as many go unreported. However the research group Big Cats in BritainBCIBpublishes reported sightings annually by county.
The "top ten" counties or regions of Great Britain between April 2004 and July 2005 were:
County Devon Yorks Scotland Wales Gloucs Sussex Cornwall Kent Somerset Leics
Number of Sightings 132 127 125 123 104 103 99 92 91 89
|Number of Sightings||132||127||125||123||104||103||99||92||91||89|
Hoaxes and misidentifications
A few fakes have been exposed over the years, and although most are obvious, some can go on for some time before being proven.
One such example is of the photo of a stuffed toy panther in Wales being taken seriously by the British tabloid press before being exposed as a publicity stunt by researchers of the national research network Big Cats in Britain. The photo had initially been confirmed as genuine by the British Big Cat Society which was then obliged to reverse its verdict. The same make of toy was later used in another hoax, having been photographed using a mobile phone camera in Yorkshire.
The possible species of British big cats
The world's big cats comprise lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars.
Other Cats: Species that have been noted only occasionally include the leopard cat, which are the size of domestic cats but with leopard-like spots, a clouded leopard, a specialised species from the tropics which was captured after living wild in Kent in 1975, and there are even extraordinary cases of lions being reported in Devon and Somerset.
Cath Palug, Isle of Anglesey, medieval
Beast of Exmoor, Devon and Somerset, 1970s - Present
Beast of Bodmin, Cornwall, 1992 - Present
"Felicity" the Puma, Inverness-shire, 1980
Surrey Puma, Surrey and Hampshire, 1959 - 1970
Fen Tiger, Cambridgeshire, 1950s - 1990s
Wrangaton Lion, Devon, 1998 - 1999
Bucks Beast, Buckinghamshire, 1995 - Present
The Beast of Basingstoke, a big cat sighted around Basingstoke in the early 1990s, and believed to be a lion or puma.
The Beast of Bevendean, a big cat which has mauled dogs in the suburbs of Brighton.
In 1988, the Ministry of Agriculture took the unusual step of sending in Royal Marines to carry out a massive search for the rumoured Beast of Exmoor after an increase in the number of mysteriously killed livestock, and farmer complaints over subsequent loss of money. Several Marines claimed to have seen the cat fleetingly, but nothing other than a fox was ever found. The Ministry concluded that reports of the Beast were nothing more than mass hysteria.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published a list of predatory cats that they know to have escaped in the United Kingdom, although most of these have been recaptured.
BCIB Yearbook 2007, Ed. Mark Fraser, CFZ 2008
Beer, Trevor The Beast of Exmoor: Fact or legend? Countryside Productions 1988
Brierly, Nigel They stalk by night - the big cats of Exmoor and the South West Yeo Valley Productions 1988
Francis, Di The Beast of Exmoor and other mystery predators of Britain Johnathan Cape 1993
Francis, Di Cat Country David and Charles 1982
Harpur, Merrily Mystery Big Cats Heart of Albion 2006
Moiser, Chris Mystery Cats of Devon and Cornwall Bossiney Books 2002
Moiser, Chris Big Cat Mysteries of Somerset Bossiney Books 2005
Moiser, Chris Mystery Big Cats of Dorset Inspiring Places 2007
Shuker, Karl Mystery Cats of the World: From Blue Tigers to Exmoor Beasts Robert Hale 1989
The Big Cats in Britain research network
Defra, UK - Wildlife & countryside - Global wildlife - Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976
William Cobbett: Rural Rides (1830), p204 in Penguin 2001 edition
Inverness Big Cat
Arthur and the Porter
British Big Cats - British Big Cats Society, Prove and Protect, Big Cat Sightings, Official Website
'Big cat' sighting on video, BBC Scotland, 24 May 2007]
BBC Wildlife Magazine, April 2006
Bucks Examiner 23rd June 1995
It's Basingstoke NOT Boringstoke
Beast of Bevendean strikes again (From The Argus)
www.ukbigcats.co.uk - The Definitive Guide To UK Big Cats