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Big Cats


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Ian Topham's picture
Ian Topham
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There have been many sightings of Big Cats in the UK. One suggested reason for this is the introduction of the dangerous wild animals act in 1976. It is thought that when faced with the restrictions introduced, some collectors simply released their animals into the wild.

Surely though these animals cannot have an indefinate life span and unless you get a mating pair these cats will die out, so we should se a decease and eventual stop of sightings.

Has anyone found the remains of any dead big cats? If they have been on the lose for 30 years some must have died by now.

Mauro
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Big Cats

Since I've been deeply into cryptozoology for the past few years I think I am qualified (?) to answer.
Yes, there have been a number of "corpses" over the years.
The most famous one is "Nellie the Lion", a female puma (Puma concolor), was caught alive near Cannich, Scotland, in 1980 by Ted Noble. This was probably a "hoax" since Nellie was elderly, well groomed and slightly lame, so it's strongly suspected somebody pulled a fast one by planting an unwanted exotic pet in Ted Noble's trap.
At least two Eurasian lynxes (Lynx lynx) were killed in Britain in the 1990's. One was run over by a lorry near Sheffield (if I remember correctly) and the other was shot on the Isle of Wight. A third one is rumoured to have been killed by a marksman of the Ulster Constabulary but nobody has been able to find proof.
Four Leopard cats (Felis bengalensis) were shot or trapped in the 1980's in Southern England alone.
Then we have the so-called Kellas Cats, those mysterious black felines from Scotland. These are now commonly accepted to be introgressive hybrids between Scottish wildcats and domestic cats (as Karl Shuker predicted back in the '80s... give the man some credit!).
Of course except for Nellie these are "small" cats but if you ever saw a lion, a tiger or even a leopard (the usual suspect) up close (a zoo enclosure for example) you'll have some idea of how really big these cats are. Their pawprints (especially a lion's) are truly enormous.
Working in the cryptozoological field for years has taught me that most persons tend to overextimate measures, often a lot.
Moreover most persons, when shown a black profile of a leopard and a domestic cat have problems telling them apart, despite the leopard's bigger, squarer head and much more muscular body.
I am personally convinced that there quite a few exotic cats at large in the British Isles, maybe even a few viable populations, but these are mostly "small" cats, for example Jungle cats (Felis chaus), that can hybridize with domestic cats. There's even a remote probability that there are quite a few lynxes roaming about, though it's very hard to tell (unless good, fresh genetic material is taken) if they are an indigenous population or released pets: in Central Italy a small population of lynxes has just been discovered. Funny thing, while most researchers and conservation experts considered them extinct since the Pleistocene, the old hunters of the Appenines knew them well and occasional shot and ate them!
There's also a remote possibility of the occasional big cat being turned loose in the countryside: for example in Australia a puma was shot in the 1950's near Maryborough. It was then stuffed and it's still in existence.
There's also a third possibility, highlighted by yet another Australian case, of giant feral cats, possibly a new species in the making, larger than your average Devon Red and perhaps close in dimensions to a lynx, but until now they are unknown outside Australia.

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


Urisk's picture
Urisk
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Big Cats

There are a few problems with the release/escape theory revolving around the Dangerous Animals act of 1976. There is very little evidence of such animals being released. The second problem is that leopards are possibly the most dangerous big cats to man (or at least have been hinted as!); why haven't there been any human fatalities or even reports of attacks? There have been attacks on dogs, and of course livestock. Thirds problem would be that popular pets were smaller cats like pumas, however there has never been a case, even in wild populations in their native America, of melanistic, or "black", pumas/cougars/mountain lions. Melanistic leopards (ie. panthers) would have indeed made fine pets, owing to their unusual colouration. Leopards displaying normal colouration seem to never be reported, but since the melanistic phenotype would most likely be dominant, breeding pairs of panthers would, of course, be more likely to produce offspring exhibiting melanistic coats.

Another interesting fact is lack of carcasses, but this rings true with lions in the savannah. Indeed, you rarely see animal remains, even in the UK.

Of course, the supernatural theory is that akin to black dogs. Indeed, Scotland does have its own "Fairy Cat", the Cait Sith. Since the description sounds suspiciously like the Kellas Cat (black with a white bib), I would presume that hybrids have been with us for longer then we assume, unless the Kellas Cat was an indigenous species?

I have little doubt that there are specimens still running arnound. Angus, at least, is supposedly chock full of them, and it's amazing just how many people claim to have seen them (I, myself beleive I have seen one, as well as possible evidence, and my Dad also reckons he might have seen one; I have spoken with much more alleged witensses too!).

Known escapees are invariably caught relatively swiftly. I believe the longest AWOL was from Howlett's Zoo in Kent, by a clouded leopard for just short of seven months? It was eventually killed.

In the past few years there have been increasing amounts of photos finding their way into local papers, and videos to local news rooms. Looking at some of them seems to releav that they are little more than very large domestic cats (despite the eyewitness claiming the size to be apparently twice the size of what it looks), going by nearby fenceposts (which are generally of a standard height etc). I wonder even if the number of "big" cat sightings and the decline in Scottish Wildcat numbers parallel each other? Could it be that our beloved Fluffys and Sootys are breeding out the wildcat and producing something new? It does not really explain how the hybrid is larger than both the wildcat AND the domestic cat however...

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Ian Topham
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Big Cats

I have only been approached by one Big Cat witness, thouh I think Dan may know another. He was a security guard in a mobile van driving out to locked premises late at night to do a short patrol. He says he was eithier going to or returning from a mill in a wooded area when a large black cat was seen crossing the road and going into the undergrowth. I cannot remember the size he said but it was not in his opinion a domestic cat. I was not in a position to investigate the case at that point. I never heard of any other sightings of it and I think the security firm generally dismissed his claims.

What got me is the proximity of the sighting to a major residential area, ie a big mill town in Greater Manchester. The wood it was set in was really a small park area. I know foxes are now a common sight in our urban areas but big cats? I thought they would stick to rural zones.

It also makes you wonder that if big cats are breeding with our domestic cats, surely it must have been a feral animal otherwise the owners may have noticed some strange kittens. I mention this because I'm not sure Britian has a large feral cat population like many other parts of the world.

The website gets quite a few cases and witness accounts sent in each week. Mainly UFO's and ghosts, perhaps if we made a more prominent cryptozoology section we might get some big cat sightings as well, which would be interesting.

Mauro
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Big Cats

The Scottish wildcats (Felis silvestris grampia) was wiped out everywhere in the British Isles by the 1860s except for a few pockets in the Highlands. It started to make a comeback in the 1920s but hybridizations has been a problem and right now not more than 400 pure-blood Scottish wildcats are believed to live in the Highlands. A few pure-blood wildcats have been spotted as far south as Kilmarnock and hybrids are believed to have recently reached the Borders.
Shuker, Naish and other experts suggested that the hybridization process which gave us the Kellas cats started quite recently when long-limbed, long snouted, mainly dark purebred cats of Asian origins started to become popular in Britain.
Melanism is a common phenomenon in cats but it seems to be confined to tropical regions but the mechanisms are by no mean clear: for example leopards show a high tendence to melanism in South East Asia but melanistic leopards are so rare in Africa that natives treat the occasional specimen as a different species (ie the Damasia in Kenya). Melanistic pumas, the most popular candidates, are unknown to us: there have been three cases from Latin America but none of them has withstood investigation. Pumas from Patagonia tend to be bigger than their norhern brethrens and are silvery-gray in colour but are very poor substitutes for the typical large black cat.
The giant ferals is a very recent phenomenon. Bushmen hunting in the Gibson Desert of Australia were the first to report them but of course nobody believed them, despite more reports (and killings) coming from all over Australia. The "smoking gun" was finally obtained in 2005 when Kurt Engel shot a giant black feral cat in the Gippsland area, cut off the tail (previous hunters had never bothered saving anything) and sent it to Melbourne to have it analyzed. Lab analysis confirmed that it came from a domestic cat with a 99.9% degree of accuracy though the tail was triple the size it should have been. Engel got nothing out of this experience and, moreover, had to pay the laboratory fees himself.
It's curious to note that, despite feeble evidence, the Victoria and the New South Wales states of Australia have both included the Puma in the list of animals "known to attack livestock" though this may well be a political move to appease concerned ranchers.

PS: I seem to recall that in some areas of Scotland the wildcat was considered a man killer, can anyone confirm this?

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


Urisk's picture
Urisk
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Big Cats

Yep you're right. There are no confirmed cases of melanistic pumas.

As for melanistic leopards (ie. Panthers) being localised; it may well be something to do with popularions. Melanism in just about every other animal is a genotypic phenomenon. I believe it is a dominant allele that would therefore take priority in showing itself over recessive and mixed alleles. Of course under some circumstances dominant alleles can be ousted from a generation as other phenotypes (the "physical" representation of the genotype, as dark fur would be the phenotype of the genotype that is expressed) are expressed.
So what I'm saying is that in a population where the melanistic geotype is more common (whether it's dominant or recessive) there is more chance of such animals displaying melanism.

Seeing as it's been so long since I studied genetics and heredity, this is about as far as I can remember Laughing I suppose I can go and hunt out my old books though. If I'm feeling brave Razz

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Daniel Parkinson
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Big Cats

There are quite a lot of sightings on the West Coast of Scotland, eg, 'the Beast of Beith' makes headlines every now and again with each witness sighting.

Urisk, I know of a couple of alleged attacks on people by big cats in the 1990's, on Bodmin moor in 1993 a woman walking a labrador was stunned by a blow to the head by a big cat, and also in 1993 a Couple called Nick and Sally Dyke were attacked while in St Peter's Churchyard in Inkberrow Here & Worc, Nick was knocked down by a cat ( he apparently stood on it) and the cat then took a swipe at Sally and left her with 3 five inch wounds to her rib cage, This appeared in Fortean Times with a picture of the wounds. Sally was a veterinary lecturer, and the couple had been on the look out for the "Beast of Inberrow" and had laid out food for it the evening before. I will see if I can track down the issue.

Don't know of any cases of the Scottish Wildcat having reputation as a man killer, they are reputedly fierce and cannot be domesticated, but they are quite small and resemble a stocky tabby cat. I am interested in any evidence that they have been seen as far south as Kilmarnock.

I have interviewed a few witnesses of ABC and they were convinced at what they had seen but as has been mooted estimating size is difficult unless you have a reason to do it regulary. In one bizarre sighting a local witness saw a large black cat pass in front of them when walking a country path at dusk. The sighting was bizarre as the cat (they assured me that is the only way they could describe it) was walking on its hind legs, affraid which can only have a non physical explanation (whether psychological or something else) It certainly scared the crap out of my witness.

Urisk's picture
Urisk
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Big Cats

DJP, the Scottish Wildcat Trust mantains a sighting database. Here is their website: http://www.scottishwildcats.co.uk/index.html .
The reputation of the Wildcats as a killer is probably rooted in folklore like the Stoat Packs: it would be interesting to find out how such small animals, no matter how fierce and strong for their size, have acquired such a reputation.

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Daniel Parkinson
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Big Cats

Mauro, just found a good website on the Scottish Wildcat: http://www.scottishwildcats.co.uk Suggests that the wildcat is one of Britain's top predators and explains a bit about the man killer reputation: "The most common victims of wildcat attacks tend to be over confident dogs used to chasing domestic cats and unprepared to back down, or wildlife park keepers trying to get hold of a wildcat for veterinary inspection; some vets opt to use a tranquilising blowdart as wildcats are well documented for biting clean through gauntlets and hands. Legends of cats hanging from tree branches by a hook at the end of their tail, dropping onto passing crofters and tearing out their throats are the stuff of fantasy, left over from the Middle Ages' suspicion of cats as agents of witches and maintained through the Victorian era to fuel and justify the persecution of the cats."

DJP

I see you have beaten me to it in the above post Very Happy Cheers

Mauro
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Big Cats

It seemed we came up with the same idea...
Funny thing, I seem to recall the whole hanging cats story from somewhere else!

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


Lee Waterhouse
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Big Cats

Is the Scottish wildcat also know as Jefferys cat ? I ask this as i remember an article in the FT quite some time ago refering to Jefferys cat and with the article was an old photograph with a chap that had shot one, he was standing with the dead cat held up by its tail and it head nearly touched the ground.



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