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Mysterious Cats of Britain

Updated on January 22, 2015

Britain is a country of many cat lovers and while there are hundreds of different breeds of cat living in our homes, there are almost no native species of wildcat that live in the country. Yet for generations, there have been stories about the mysterious cats that prowl the dark and uninhabited areas of the country, occasionally venturing nearer habited areas and even attacking people. Here we look at some of the best known.

Phantom Cats

The idea of mystery cats, also known as phantom cats and sometimes as Alien Big Cats (ABCs) is not one that is restricted to the UK. In fact, there have been reports of cats that simply don’t belong from Canada and the US to Hawaii, Australia as well as numerous European countries such as Finland, Denmark and Italy.

There are countless theories as to where these animals came from and how they ended up being in places that their species isn’t normally found. With many, it is believed they are escaped zoo animals or those that have been brought to the country as pets then released by accident or when owners realised they weren’t legal.

Canadian Lynx

Source

History of the Phenomena

In the UK, many people think that the phenomena began with the Dangerous Wild Animals Act that came into force in 1976. This meant that people, who had what was classified as a dangerous animal, including almost all cats save the domestic cat, were forced to give up their animals. But instead of doing this, many released them into the wild and these animals, or their descendants, are the creatures seen today.

The main problem with this theory is that sightings of big cats in strange places far outdates this act. One of the earliest reported incidents came from Waverley Abbey, near Farnham in Surrey and dated from the 1760s. A man named William Cobbett noted in his book, Rural Rides, that as a boy he had seen a cat the size of a mid-sized Spaniel dog, climbing in an elm tree in the grounds of the abbey. He later travelled to New Brunswick and saw a ‘lucifee’ or a North American lynx (Felis lynx Canadensis) which he recognised to be the cat he had seen in the abbey grounds.

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Evidence

Some of the best evidence that there are big cats roaming the remote areas of the UK come from remains that have been found and verified by experts. There are a number of examples of these. One of the earliest is a Canadian lynx that was shot in Devon in 1903 and is now held in a collection in the British Museum. Analysis of the animal showed that its teeth lent evidence to it having been kept in captivity for some time before its death.

In 1980, a puma was captures in Inverness-shire in Scotland after several years where sightings had been reported. The cat was taken to a zoo and named Felicity and after its death, was stuffed and put in the Inverness Museum. Whether this was the cat that tormented the area was never known for certain, as the animal showed evidence of being an abandoned pet. Another puma was captured in the Aviemore area in 1993 that may have been connected with the incidents.

For years, no-one knew that the stories of the mysterious cat that plagued the sheep of the area around Norwich was real. In 1993, a Eurasian lynx was shot and the body stuffed by a collector in the area but the details weren’t released until 2003. Previously people had thought the whole sheep death issue to have been a hoax but in 2006, the local police confirmed that the animal had been responsible and had been killed.

One of the most interesting cats captured alive was a lynx in the Crickelwood area of London in 2001. It was much larger than a domestic cat and was taken to London Zoo before being transferred to a zoo in France. The interesting part was that when captured, the animal was only around 18 months old.

Surrey Puma

One of the earliest well documented cases was that of the Surrey Puma. This was a black puma reported by multiple witnesses in south-western Surrey in the 1960s. The very first report was received by police in the Farnham area in 1959 close to the border with Hampshire. These were followed by a sighting in 1962 by two water board personnel and another in the winter of that year when a cat-like creature was seen in the area of Bushylease Farm, near Crondall in Hampshire.

In August 1964, the same farm reported finding a bullock that had been severely lacerated and the media began reporting the Surrey Puma. Godalming police station along received 362 reports in a two-year period and while there was no doubt many misidentifications amongst these, the police didn’t close the file until 1967. A large paw print was later displayed in the station that was identified as that of a puma by London Zoo, albeit a very large specimen.

A former police photographer captured a grainy shot of the creature in August 1966 near Worplesdon and in 1968, a farmer claimed to have shot the cat but didn’t provide any evidence. Sightings fell off until 1970 when paw prints in the snow were discovered. In 1984, hair samples were collected near Peaslake and positively identified as a puma. Sightings are still being recorded to this day.

Cat Comparison

Types of Cat
Weight
Length
Maine Coon (large domestic breed)
15-25lb
48 inches
European Wildcat
11 lb
42 inches
Canadian Lynx
18-24 lb
31-41 inches
Cougar (Puma)
115-220 lb
7 ft 9 inches
Rough guide to compare cat sizes from the domestic cat up to the puma

Galloway Puma

Another puma has been reported on numerous occasions in the county of Dumfries and Galloway in the south-west of Scotland. Reports first surfaces in the late 1990s that a Canadian tourist had seen a cat resembling a cougar near Kirroughtree, to the south-east of Newton Stewart. He was on a nature walk in Galloway Forest when he saw the creature, which was later also seen by locals.

There followed a spate of sightings from farmers and even Forestry Commission workers who had seen a black cat in the area, particularly in the Machars area of the county. In 2001, a woman walking her dog near Newton Stewart golf course was left shocked when a black cat, ‘larger than an Alsatian’ jumped out on the path in front of her. It ran off when her dog began barking frantically at it.

Big cat footage from Shropshire

Big Cat Photo, Buckinghamshire

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Locations of Sightings

show route and directions
A markerBodmin Moor -
Bodmin Moor, Liskeard, Cornwall PL14, UK
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B markerFarnham, Surrey -
Farnham, Surrey, UK
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C markerNorwich -
Norwich, Norwich, Norfolk, UK
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D markerCricklewood -
Cricklewood, London NW2, UK
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E markerNewton Stewart -
Newton Stewart, Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway DG8, UK
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F markerSydenham Park -
Sydenham Park, London SE26 4EE, UK
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G markerBevendean -
Bevendean, Brighton, Brighton, The City of Brighton and Hove BN2, UK
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H markerShotts -
Shotts, Shotts, North Lanarkshire ML7, UK
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I markerBillingsley, Shropshire -
Billingsley, Bridgnorth, Shropshire WV16, UK
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Other Sightings

The two most famous cases, the Beast of Exmoor and the Beast of Bodmin, deserve articles in their own rights. Interest in big cats and the urge to report things normally ignored has been increased with these and other famous cases, meaning that more and more people are willing to talk about the strange things they have seen.

In 2005, a man living in Sydenham Park in southeast London was attacked by a big black creature that jumped on his back and left scratches all over his body. The man was 6 foot tall, weighed 15 stone, and reported that the creature was much stronger than he was. Police investigated the incident and one officer did see a cat the size of a Labrador dog.

Since 2008, there have been reported in the Brighton and Hove area of Sussex that a panther-like creature was roaming the area. Dubbed the Beast of Bevendean, the creature attacked and scared dogs in the area leading to warnings being issued to local residents. In June of that year, a man reported the beast attacking his dog while out walking and in 2010, a local teacher reported a sighting. Sussex Big Cat Watch are confident that the cats are real and that there could be two, three, or as many as several dozen living around the county.

In 2011, a number of sightings of a ‘panther’ were reported in the Shotts area of North Lanarkshire in Scotland. Local press reported these sightings regularly then they abruptly stopped, leading to the suspicion that the animal had moved on to quieter areas.

In 2013, two sisters reported seeing a large black cat that had a three-foot stride jump a fence near the Shropshire-Wrexham border. They found a large lair and footprints too big to be from a domestic cat. A zookeeper from the area confirmed that the prints weren’t from a domestic cat but were also not from a panther. His belief was that they came from a descendant of the Shropshire jungle cat of the 1980s. This cat was a jungle cat that was found at the roadside in 1989 having been hit by a car.

European Wildcat

Conclusion

The only wild cat that lives in the UK is the Scottish wildcat, a subspecies of the European wildcat (Felis silvestris). This cat is found across Europe and weights around 11lb, physically resembling a tabby cat. There is no way that a wildcat would be mistaken for a puma or a panther nor could it reach the kind of size that would lead to misidentification, its tabby markings aside. Whether these cats are something paranormal, escapees from homes or abandoned pets, there seems little doubt that there are some big cats roaming around Britain. All we need is definitive proof of what kind of cat and from where they came.

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    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Very interesting hub! There are always reports here in Australia about large cats being seen. Some have been filmed, but so far there has been no actual proof, such as you have found in the UK. Legend has it that these big cats are the descendants of pets kept by American servicemen stationed here in various wars.

      Voted up.

    • Angela Tempest profile image
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      Angela Tempest 2 years ago from Lanchester, Durham, United Kingdom

      Thanks glad you like the Hub. Must admit thought much the same here connected with the Act in the 1970s so was quite surprised to see how old some of the reports are. Its an interesting subject for sure!

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