Various breeding big cats now seen in the British countryside.
There should be no doubt that big cats, other than our indigenous wild cats, exist in England. There have always been wildcats and they are common to Scotland, North Wales and the West Country, but they are only a little larger than a big domestic Tom, albeit considerably more fierce.
A woman saw what she describes as a “big black panther” that was “bounding along the track” as she stood waiting for a train on the Bakerloo Line late one winter evening in the mid-1950s. In the early 1990s, there were several more sightings of a big cat alongside the Central Line between Northolt and Greenford. Accounts vary as to the species of cat, although most seem to settle on “puma.” Whence it came and how it got to Northolt without being noticed remain to be explained.
For decades there have been sightings of very large, all black cats, that are almost certainly Panthers and some Leopards. This year one was sighted in Kent, running with a cub (which would logically suggest at least one pair).
There are various stories of how they came to be in the wild. In Devon a somewhat dotty German Industrialist had a private zoo. One night in a drunken rage he released all of the animals before committing suicide. Everyone thought that all of the big cats were either re-captured or shot, but as no one knew exactly what he had (pre the days of the wild animal act) it was difficult to be certain. For some months the moors were a riot of exotic animals and the last to be re-captured were a group of apes. Something rather surreal about a pack of large hairy ape like creatures creating mayhem (a little like Ibrox football ground on a Saturday afternoon !)
I wouldn't worry about them being a danger; most large cats have the sense to stay well away from people and in cover. Their main diet would be rabbits, although if the odd lamb or piglet presented itself I am sure they would be a welcome addition to the diet. Experts in large cats confirm that the pattern of spoors and appearance of certain kills can only have been made by a large cat.
Apart from the fact you should leave them alone, do not, I repeat do not attempt to shoot one with a shotgun. Unless you are very close, using magnum cartridges with AA or lead slug, it will tear you to pieces, before dying a slow and painful death sometime later. They have co-existed with us for at least 3 decades, so well; in fact we are still not certain they are there. Leave them alone and they will do the same, becoming an interesting addition to our indigenous wildlife.
Going back to our indigenous smaller cats the Scottish Wildcat Association says the SNH project alone will not save the cats from extinction In 2013 they are looking at five areas of Scottish wildcat habitat to be targeted in a new £2m conservation project. Our natural wildcat species is facing extinction, threatened by habitat loss, disease and crossbreeding with feral cats.
The British Heritage Lottery Fund has offered to give £873,000 towards Scottish Natural Heritage's action plan.This revolves around programme of neutering and vaccinating feral cats to stop diluting the gene poll and will be done as part of the project in areas of Aberdeenshire, Highlands and Tayside.
However, the Scottish Wildcat Association said the action plan would not go far enough to save purebred wildcats and said captive breeding should be supported instead, to improve numbers. The SWA's Wildcat Haven project seeks to establish protected breeding areas for the animals on the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula.
Scientist Dr Paul O'Donoghue and the Aspinall Foundation (excellent wild animal breeder for reintroduction) have taken over the association's project and Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse has welcomed the offer of lottery funding for the SNH plan. As well as neutering feral cats, SNH will work with land managers to help reduce natural and industrial risks to wildcats.
There will also be a Scotland-wide awareness raising campaign helping people understand how much of a risk there is to the animal and what domestic cat owners can do to help.
Mr Wheelhouse said: "The Scottish wildcat is an iconic species that is emblematic of the wild parts of Scotland."As a society we have a legal and moral obligation to try and conserve the species, so that it continues to be part of our natural heritage for generations to come."
"The next stage is to ensure that the project is well-designed and delivers the most benefit for wildcats. This funding will help to ensure this work gets under way."
He said the project would lead to a more relaxed approach to what can be defined as a wildcat and numbers would no longer be focused on just pure-bred cats.
"Quite a few pet cat owners worldwide will be waking up to find they have a government-approved Scottish wildcat purring at the end of the bed," he said.
The larger cats do produce a more tricky problem. Realistically they cannot be allowed to roam freely into urban areas. They are powerful non domesticated animals and although wary, sooner or later there will be confrontation between them and man. As an extension of the wildcat programme there should be a secure reservation set up for these big cats to allow them to breed and roam in safety.
Have you seen any large wild cats roaming free in Britain ?
© 2012 Peter Geekie