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Woodchester Big Cat (2012)

The following article by Charlie Cooper entitled 'Will DNA tests solve the mystery of Gloucestershire big cat sightings?' appeared in The Independent on 12 January 2012.

'It began with dark mutterings in the local pub, that a strange beast might be stalking the woods around the little village of Woodchester, savaging the local wildlife and frightening local dog walkers.

Now, even the National Trust is suspicious and experts are carrying out DNA tests on the carcasses of two roe deer found mutilated in the Gloucestershire countryside.

A local walker discovered the second carcass in the National Trust’s Woodchester Park, near Stroud, on Wednesday last week. Experts from the University of Warwick were called in on Friday to take DNA samples from the two carcasses, the first of which was found near the village of Dursley.

Dr Robin Allaby, associate professor of life sciences at the University of Warwick said he was “prepared to believe” that the creature that killed the deer was a big cat. DNA test results will be available by next week, he added.

Experts said that injuries to the neck, the plucking of fur and the removal of the stomach and the intestines from the carcass were all hallmarks of a big cat kill.

Stories of big cats stalking the British countryside – usually accompanied by grisly deer or sheep carcasses – are not uncommon, but this is the first time that the National Trust has become involved in an inquiry and the first time that DNA technology has been used to verify suspicions.

A National Trust spokesman said: “This is a first for us – it’s quite exciting, an opportunity to solve a wildlife mystery through science.”

The man who discovered the second carcass, who asked not to be named, said: “I found it on Wednesday last week at about 9 o’clock in the morning. I was out for my daily walk. I found it in a coombe – I was on one side and could see a body of some description. I realised from afar that it was a deer and there was a lot of redness showing. So I walked over to it and as soon as I came close I realised what it was. It was very evident that it had been eaten by something – something rather large.”

Frank Tunbridge, 65, a local man who has been recording big cat sightings and suspicious kills for 25 years, said: “We’ve come across loads of similar kills – but this is much more exciting. Because we’re on National Trust land we’ve had a lot of interest and we’ll be getting DNA evidence – the best you can get.

Nothing else in this country, other than a big cat, could do this to a carcass.”

“I’ve lived here for 20-odd years, and there’s always been a rumour,” said Ben Powell, manager of the Old Fleece pub in Woodchester. “But nothing’s ever been proved. It’s not often talked about – but you do hear the odd rumour”

Mr Tunbridge, who said there had been reports of big cats in the area for more than a decade, has set up camera trap devices around the site of the latest kill, hoping to photograph the culprit. The creature, whatever it might be, remains elusive.'

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Ian Topham
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Re: Woodchester Big Cat (2012)

It looks like the Beast of Stroud has killed again according to this article in The Mirror.

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Ian Topham
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Re: Woodchester Big Cat (2012)

An article concerning this cat from The Mail, 21 January 2012.

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Ian Topham
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Re: Woodchester Big Cat (2012)

According to the BBC News on 2 February 2012 in an article entitled ''Big cat' in Gloucestershire ruled out by DNA tests'

Scientists have failed to find any evidence that "big cats" killed two roe deer found dead in Gloucestershire.

The National Trust commissioned DNA tests last month, after finding one deer on its land at Woodchester Park, in Stroud, and one a few miles away.

Warwick University experts said they had only found DNA relating to foxes and deer on the bodies of the animals.

Forty-five samples were tested for the saliva of any dog or cat-related species.

The National Trust had initially said the carcasses, which were found within a week of each other, had been eaten in a way "thought to be highly indicative of big cat activity".

However, tests revealed that fox DNA was present on both carcasses.

David Armstrong, head ranger for the National Trust in Gloucestershire, said: "The story of the investigation of the dead deer has really sparked local curiosity with a lot of people coming out to Woodchester Park to explore.

"People love a mystery like this and although we haven't found a wild cat, many of our visitors clearly believe there might be something interesting living quietly hidden in Woodchester."

Rick Minter, a big cat researcher in Gloucestershire, said he still believed something could be out there, despite what the tests had revealed.

However, he said the latest research had been a "valuable input to this exercise".

"The strong media interest suggests an appetite to look into this subject further, and recent community surveys in Gloucestershire have indicated a strong desire for big cat evidence to be researched carefully," said Mr Minter.

'Out there somewhere'
Woodchester Parish councillor Paul Syrett, said he was disappointed with the results but still convinced big cats exist in the area.

"I think the community around here is convinced something is going on," he said.

"Too many references, too many pictures, too many people seeing this animal - I'll just wait to see the next piece of proof," he said.

Josh Ford-Loveday, 30, from Stroud, also continues to believe: "I'm under no illusion that they are out there somewhere, it is just unfortunate that it wasn't a big cat that killed those deer."

He claims to have witnessed a fawn-coloured big cat with two cubs in January, 2010, whilst walking his dogs near Randwick Woods.

"Where I saw them there are several disused quarries and woodland for miles and miles - you could walk from Westrip through the valley and you wouldn't pass houses, you wouldn't be on public footpaths, you'd almost be lost in the wilderness," he said.



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