According to fossil evidence lions and cheetah were the first of the modern cats, appearing around six million years ago with the leopards and jaguars emerging around one million years ago. Most regions of the world are home to more than one cat species, however a majority are native to only one continent, with the oceans of the world acting as a natural barrier. The species are labelled Old World and New World species, whilst the Lynx is found in both. At present there are five regions of distribution:
*North Africa & Southwest Asia
It would seem though that Britain has just as much variety as areas such as Asia with all manner of exotic cats being reported.
There are some 230 bones in the cat body (humans have 206). The short and rounded skull joins to the spine which supports the body. Vertebrae protect the spinal cord which is the main nerve cable.
The cats teeth are designed for chewing although not all cats teeth are as ferocious as one might think, but they can puncture with ease. The teeth and basic frame of the animal is designed on strength and agility, with powerful hind legs, strong front limbs to absorb impact of landing from great leaps and seven short neck vertebrae. Sharp curved claws grow from all of their digits – one of these is the dew claw, held off the ground to keep it sharp.
Felids are warm blooded animals which basically means that their body temperature stays consistent whatever the climate may be like. This is certainly an advantage when cats such as leopard and puma exist in countries they shouldn’t! And when they are too hot they are able to sweat through their paw pads and noses.
Cats always retract their claws but this does not always mean that paw-prints in the British countryside are easy to identify, however as dogs are the only real contender with regards to size there are certain differences. However, if terrain is extremely muddy and a cat cannot grip, there are times when claws are used. Cats prints will also show three-lobes at the heel whilst being more rounded in shape. Cats toes are more spaced, are asymmetrical and there seems to be more of a pointedness in the toe as compared to the more blunted shapes of the dog toe. However, identifying such detail is easier said than done in some cases. Fortunately in Kent, attacks on livestock are far easier to identify. Mainly due to the fact that there are hardly any wild dogs roaming the county, foxes are messier and will certainly have trouble bringing down a seventy-pound goat and apart from those two only a badger has the ability to claw. Of course, large exotic cats do not have to leave signs at all of their kills, for rabbits, rodents, birds and lambs can be completely devoured. Sheep and goats will show signs such as puncture marks, suffocation, claw marks and dislocation with the neck.
Senses and Territory
Many people believe that all cats have slit eyes which is incorrect. A leopard has binocular vision during the nocturnal hours and can see in black and white, as well as rely on its hearing which is far better than a human. During daylight hours cats can view colours but not as well as a human, however, during the day the pupils will become small, only to appear as small circles whilst during the night an animal like the leopard will absorb extra light. A reflective layer behind the retina called the tapetum lucidum allows this and when the cats eyes are caught in headlights they glow. The lens focuses light rays to produce a sharp image on the retina. Impulses from the retina are carried to the brain by the optic nerve. Cats also have a membrane which can cover the eye to prevent dust.
All cats need to drink. Many sightings in Kent have taken place along the line of rivers, streams and ponds. Although they use such waterways to navigate their routes, they also need an area to quench their thirst. The leopard will take several laps at a puddle or waterhole before gulping it down. The cats main sense though is its ability to smell and they have a unique area on the roof of their mouth to actually taste smells, especially if they are coming from another felid. This special area is known as the Jacobson’s organ and can be seen in action when a cat lifts its head to smell the air, in turn curling its lips and wrinkling its nose to allow the scent to hit the area.
The colour of a cats coat is meant to depend on where it lives, e.g. the snow leopards is thick, off-white and with darker marking to blend in with the rocky terrain, however, a black leopard in Britain is hardly camouflaged by day to the terrain although hunting at night makes it practically invisible. However, the domestic cat has a wider range of markings and colour than the various species of wild cat.
If enough cats exist in the wilds of Kent then they need to find each other. Bizarrely enough, a cat can communicate with another in order to tell a mate how old it is, where it lives, what sex it is and what mood they are in! Scratches, smells and sounds enable cats to find one another. By rubbing against a tree or rock a cat can leave a scent. Felids have scent glands on their chins, heads, base of their tails and between their toes. Not much is known about the cat language but like a dog their ears and tails can react to certain things. Those in the British countryside will know if a cat is angry by the way it hisses and flattens its ears back against its neck.
Whilst lions live in prides, most large cats are solitary hunters, only meeting with others to mate. There isn’t usually enough prey in one area to sustain a group of large cats but some cats do have overlapping territories with other solitary hunters. Females generally have a smaller territory than the male, but either can have a territory ranging from a few kilometres to over one-thousand kilometres.
A female cat will have a den to give birth in. A female puma can give birth to up to six kittens, these will be spotted and suckle her milk for up to four months and after six weeks will eat meat. The leopard can give birth to non-identical twins, one with a spotted coat, the other much darker. Cubs will mature quickly and can crawl before they can open their eyes. By six months old cubs will have learned how to keep safe, how to catch food and what not to catch! For the next year or so they will practice how to kill, balance and live. When such cubs leave their mothers they establish a territory nearby whereas the male tends to move away.
In Britain the exotic cat population has no enemies. It is sufficiently equipped to be the top predator, the ultimate killing machine and not bothered by scavengers such as the jackal, wolf or hyena. Whilst foxes are scavengers, the last animal they want to get involved with is a hungry puma.
Throughout the world humans have become the prey of big cats. In Britain attacks have been rare, often triggered by surprise or injury to the animal. The main concern is that hunters will take to the woodlands of Britain for the thrill of the chase, in turn they may injure a big cat, turning it into a dangerous animal which can no longer hunt smaller, quicker animals such as rabbits. And so it will go for the slowest animal of the lot. Man!
The name KENT BIG CAT RESEARCH refers to the study of large exotic cats roaming the countryside, and not just ‘big cats’. Only one species of ‘big cat’ roams Kent, as well as Britain and that is the black leopard.
It was Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish naturalist (1707 – 1778) who proposed that animals of the same kind should be placed in the same species and the same genus as other similar species. Genera were put into orders and each order was put into classes and so on. All cats were originally put under the genus Felis but in more recent times the taxonomic subdivisions divided the cat family further, although the generic and subgenera status’ have caused much confusion and disagreement.
Linnaeus believed that because cats were so similar (although they have also been proven to be very dissimilar) they could be grouped together as Felis but no longer are animals merely classified on the basis of similarity of structure, they must also be related and have the same ancestors to become part of a specified group. Cats form the Felidae family within the Carnivora order. Zoologists have sorted out many of the felids into other groups. The ‘big’ cats form the Panthera which is a species distinguished by the structure of the larynges, instead of mere size, with the smaller cats still contained within the Felis group although rather confusingly to some, the puma felis concolor) can grow to the size of the Leopard which is in the Panthera category, however, the Puma cannot roar and is the largest of the Lesser cats. The cheetah however, which was once believed to only partially retract its claws, was put alone in the genus Acinonyx, a Greek word meaning ‘non-movement’ and ‘claw’ although it is understood that the claws of the cat are only slightly hooked with a less prominent sheath, whilst the Clouded Leopard, perceived as a large descendant of the small cats and considered a link between the larger and smaller cats, belongs to the Neofelis with the Snow Leopard of the genus Uncia.
Panthera leo, tigris, pardus, and once describe the big cat family of leopard, tiger, lion and jaguar, with the fossil species of the extinct European jaguar included. All these cats are able to roar although the Snow Leopard has never been known to (the hyoid – a small group of bones in the great cats, is described elsewhere) whilst the smaller cats are only able to purr and sometimes chirp, and even scream. Large cats which purr pause for breath before continuing.
There are between 36 and 38 species of feline depending on the way some are classified as species or sub-species. During the Tertiary period, the ‘age of the mammals’, five periods were divided and given the names Palaeocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene and Pliocene. The first of these periods beginning over sixty million years ago. Animals the size of small civets existed when the Eocene merged into the Oligocene, such long-limbed creatures appeared as cat-like animals and remains show large upper canines which many of the sabre-toothed cats had. All the present day ‘big cats’ derive from the fossils of Neofelids which date back to over thirty million years ago, during the Oligocene period. Evolution progressed from the Aeluroidea carnivores which included the Nimravidae paleofelids, which evolved on a parallel with the neofelids. Cougar-sized Pseudaelurus are believed to be the ancient ancestors to the modern cats as well as the sabre-toothed felids which first appeared around fifteen-million years ago in the form of lion-sized cats, and up until the Pleistocene era with the Smilodons. Fossil remains have never been found outside the New World and date back no further than two-and a half million years ago, and it seems that these cats with eleven-inch long teeth existed as scavengers, and also preyed on slow moving herbivores. Treacherous water-holes trapped many of these monster cats, where remains are found, yet one misconception of these cats that exists, is the belief that sabre-toothed tigers were direct ancestors of the modern tiger…however, the pre-historic forms probably became extinct long before hand. The Smilodon existed until some fifteen thousand years ago in the Americas.
Large cats emerged in India, China and all over Europe as ancestral forms, and the Lynx has ancestors also from the Pliocene, large cats which existed across Europe and China. By the Ice Age, cave lions and leopard-like felines inhabited Europe, with other huge felines inhabiting the rest of the world, where in time the cat family then spread all over areas of Africa, America and Eurasia although some areas which have cats have neighbouring islands which do not support any species.
Lions and cheetahs ( which existed in the Pliocene ) roamed freely around five million years ago with the Leopards, Tigers, Jaguars and the now extinct Martelli’s Wild Cat (felis lunensis). This particular cat was the size of the modern wild felid and may well have evolved into the wildcat although little else is known about it. The Pallas Cat is the oldest cat within the genus felis.The European Wildcat emerged between the two great Ice Ages, with a variety of subspecies forming, although not all surviving. Cats such as the Black Footed Cat, the Forest Cat and the Chinese Desert Cat spanned various continents with our own domestic cats developing from the African Wild Cats.
Many large and small cat species have become extinct over the millions of years, whilst other species have flourished. Prey for some had dwindled, whilst in other areas during periods around seven million years ago land bridges were formed, meaning that feline species crossed into different habitats, to places that were abundant with wildlife and prey. North and South America became inhabited by large cats in the forest areas, whilst other cats roamed vast desert lands created by extreme winters during the Miocene. Many cat species died out around five million years ago but restoration of species occurred around two million years later when large-toothed cats emerged in the form of Megantereon. However, extreme changes in land fauna meant that predatory cats rose and fell in population and the sabre-toothed cats were unable to catch fleet-footed prey such as antelopes, which felids such as the Cheetah, Lion and Jaguar were able to hunt.
Around five-thousand years ago most of the ancient large cats were extinct and up until fifteen-thousand years ago the Lions and Cheetahs of North America had vanished with the sabre-tooth’s, whilst the Leopard no longer lurked in the shadows of Eurasia. Leopards last roamed Britain around twelve-thousand years ago whilst the Lynx existed up until some four-thousand years ago.
Only have the last one-hundred and fifty years or so enabled cat species to inhabit areas they are not indigenous to. With the amount of large cats roaming areas of Australia and Britain, and seemingly in abundance, is there a possibility that new species could, or already have evolved?
Large cats such as lions and leopards have been crossed whilst in captivity, but to suggest that such new species roam Britain is absurd, despite the many reports from witnesses of cats that they simply cannot identify. Although eye-witness reports are valuable to research, whether they be supposedly credible witnesses such as doctors and policemen, or just general folk walking their dogs, it is surprising to note just how many people cannot recognise or identify an exotic cat in the British countryside. Across Exmoor in the 1980s many descriptions of roaming cats were vague, unsure and certainly did not seem to point to any known species of wild cat. Of course, some of the reports may well have been of domestic cats, dogs and other animals distorted in certain shade and light, and more so of animals that indeed were large and exotic, but were in fact the normal species such as prowling puma and ‘panther’. However, many people are insistent that they had seen black puma, which are rare, to the extent of non-existent although sightings in the U.S. could suggest otherwise, as it is so to imagine hordes of these cats roaming the west-country also seems absurd. The black leopard is actually one of the most commonly sighted felids in Britain although many people do not realise what a black leopard is, or even know that it exists at all. Some witnesses describe animals too small to be of leopard size although these animals produce between two to four cubs which could well explain many sightings of smaller, darker coloured cats. However, melanin also occurs in some other species such as the caracal – indeed, this is another beautiful cat unknown to much of the public.
The thought of bizarre mutant cats stalking the rural settings of Kent is exciting, but complete rubbish and can be dismissed by the fact that hybrids will only occur on a common basis with the Asian Jungle Cat (felis chaus) which are able to interbreed with feral cats as the DNA of the Jungle Cat and domestic cat are practically the same. Felids such as the Jungle Cat can roam Britain without detection, living in marshland in a similar way to the native Wildcat which now roams only Scotland, and also producing cross-species that the general public will not be able to identify. However, many of the sightings across Kent describe large black animals, reaching some four-feet in length with, to many witnesses, "..puma-like characteristics”, but the reality is they are seeing black leopards. Black leopard parents will only give birth to black young, it is a recessive gene which causes this and it continues through the species. However, spotted leopards can produce black offspring causing a mixed litter, but a black leopard cannot produce a 'normal' spotted youngster. This melanism also occurs in other cats such as the Jaguar, servals and ocelots, once again making it very difficult for eye-witnesses to identify what they are seeing. However, with the black leopard being the most known of the melanistic cats, and most likely cat to be part of someone’s collection in the 1970s, it is this cat which roams Kent. Puma’s have also been seen sighted across the world showing spots on their coat, the young of the puma are born with spots but adults with such markings are certainly unusual but fascinating, just as white tigers are. With many sightings across Kent of black leopards, witnesses fail to pick out the ‘spots’ under the dark coat and often describe the felid as being jet-black. Of course, in the distance these cats can appear jet-black but any close sightings should reveal the rosettes. Black servals have been observed in Kenya, and white lions along with 'blue' tigers are known to exist – but thankfully, not in Britain!
The occasional one-off report of a cross-bred cat may occur but the hybridisation between different species will result in infertile young. In Britain there are a number of different exotic cats roaming the rural lanes and rolling woodlands. Some behave differently to one another whilst others would not usually share the same area, let alone country and so immediately a pairing of two different cats would no doubt produce a cat that could not further produce consistent offspring, and certainly not provide Britain with its own mutant lynx-leopard! Again, something forced within a captive environment is possible as a one-off, but in the wild the chromosomes of different mother and father would not match. These chromosomes are naturally exchanged by the mother and father to go into the egg and sperm but if the two parents are differing species then their will be a problem with the alignment of chromosomes, in some cases where the genes within the chromosomes may not add up or may be missing, thus causing species unable to produce young. In Scotland, the Kellas Cats were the offspring of domestic cats on farms and Scottish Wildcats but whether such a cat can be mistaken for the much larger black leopard seems doubtful, but then again, and as stated before, some people really do not know what they are seeing.
Whilst there is always the possibility that hybrid cats have been created in captivity and released into the wilds, it seems very unlikely that these few animals would have produced many kittens, especially to the extent of a new population of hybrids roaming the country. Some eye-witnesses have reported black cheetahs and cats, dark coloured but with white chests but until more sightings occur these possible cats will have to be taken with a pinch of salt.
It could be said that there are as many pumas in Britain as there are black leopards yet maybe there seems to be more melanistic leopards simply because with such dark coats they are sighted more in daylight hours, strolling across fields etc. A cat's coat is a fur consisting of many individual hairs of differing thickness and length yet on the whole each, individual hair contributes to the splendour of a animals colour. Most of the big cats have a background colouration of fawn or gold – nature enables these cats to become camouflaged in their own environment due to their colouration, as the puma with its fawn coat patrols the rocky crevices and the jaguar sits motionless in the glades of the rainforest. It is possible that many of the original cats were spotted or striped, or at least of a pattern that merged the two. However, like many other animals, the markings of the specific species enables it to survive in its particular habitat, firstly to conceal itself from other predators, but secondly, and most importantly in the case of the cats, to remain hidden whilst stalking prey.
Hairs grow from the base of follicles and their structure is of a complex nature, as is the body covering of many mammals. Shorter and longer hairs provide thermal insulation and each hair is replaceable due to the fact that it has limited life. Moulting may occur during particular times of the year which may explain strange coat colours of certain cats.
The puma, although known as ‘one colour’, has a variety of colours in its coat which range from silvery-brown to reddish-grey, whilst a cat which lives at high altitude, such as the Snow Leopard as feet covered with hair, whilst the various types of lynx can appear almost shaggy and grey with spots, to reddish.
The tail of the various cats acts as a balancing tool although a cat such as the lynx or bobcat has a far shorter tail. Cats such as the leopard will use its tail for climbing as a kind of balancing pole whilst the lion and its dark tufted tail has a signalling intention as it waves it around in long grass.
Despite their grace and silent stalking cats are considered cursorial although much of the time they sleep and quietly prowl. The leopard is the ultimate predator, it stalks quietly and closely to prey before ambushing it and going for the throat or at first bringing it down by the nape before strangling. Smaller cats kill with a bite into the back of the neck, lynx go for the head and others have disembowelled with their hind legs but none of the cats pursue prey for a lengthy time except for the cheetah which usually catches its prey rapidly due to its speed. Most cats silently stalk.
In Kent, as well as most of Britain, smaller animals which are preyed upon by these large cats are eaten to the extent where not a lot remains as to identify which animal actually killed it in the first place. Also, there are times when animals such as rabbits are left and scavengers do increasing damage to the body, as birds peck at the eyes and foxes eat the rest. Thankfully in Kent, wild dogs do not roam the fields. These rogue canines tear at sheep, nipping and ripping, making a bloody mess, but large cats kill entirely differently.
Claw marks can be found on the head and shoulders and the neck is often bereft of meat. In the case of smaller prey some are decapitated whilst lambs may be completely devoured except for their hoofs. Sheep have been found lying on their side, some with ears missing and the rib-cage exposed and picked clean. Sometimes innards are eaten but in other cases shoulders are ripped and the scene is usually bereft of blood spill. Rib-cages are usually ‘rasped’ and up to 70 lb of meat has been taken from local goat kills. In their countries of origin large cats such as the leopard drag their prey into trees or conceal it from scavengers, but in Kent such kills have remained in the vicinity, enabling the cat to drink its blood before clotting and to gorge itself on the crimson even if already full from a meal. In some cases, attacks on foxes have resulted in cracked bones and examination of sheep carcasses have been found with punctured rib-cages where an animal has hit them with force. In most cases though, with regards to sheep kills, the victim is leapt upon, usually unexpectedly, puncture marks are evident around the neck. In Kent though, rabbit is the ideal prey and a couple a day provide sufficient food source for a puma-sized cat. Smaller cats such as caracal and lynx can consume a pheasant or two, but during the winter the cats will scavenge, feeding off scraps thrown-out in built up areas and clawing at sacks of rubbish.
The foxes which enter farmland and built-up areas to take chickens or other small prey tend to make a mess of it. A large cat is swift and silent, plucking prey from the night air without leaving a trace and targeting one animal at a time instead of causing a massacre. Wild dogs are full of bloodlust, beginning in a playful frenzy which decimates the victim whilst the Leopard is an invisible assassin that kills for food.
A cats claws are constructed of keratin which enables them to grab their prey, and it is the middle (second) phalanx feature which enables them to retract the third phalanx upwards and inwards to lie alongside the second. Ligaments, whilst the cats are resting, draw the claws into the fur in order to protect the claws but to extend their claws cats rely on their third phalanges and the swivelling action which enables the third phalange to pivot at the joint of the second phalange to be thrust forward and in conjunction the claws are made to point downwards by a flexor muscle which tugs on the third phalange underneath. This way the ‘toes’ spread and anything which has fallen prey to the felid will find it difficult to get away as the rake-like claws are embedded. These amazing claws also enable certain cats not only to climb well, but to climb trees although descent can be difficult and not as casual.
The only other animal in the British countryside that leaves a paw-print roughly the same size of a large cat is the dog. Paw-prints are difficult to come across, especially as pathways in our countryside’s are often disturbed, and anything from horses to cars can churn up mud, sand or any other layer which may have originally preserved a print so well. Many people can be confused by tracks, especially under different conditions where a print may have thawed in the snow or been distorted by dog tracks on a muddy pathway. Cats aren’t stupid, they would much rather stroll along a hedgerow instead of traipse through a quagmire, and in some cases a cat will extend claws to grip at slippery surfaces, but dogs cannot retract their claws and usually leave a print that is elongated as compared to the cats more rounded shape, and at the rear of the heel a cat track will usually show three lobes. Indeed, there are many other differences but tracking a cats movements by way of searching for tracks is extremely difficult, especially as there are so many different breeds of dog being walked through the country lanes, indeed it is very much a complex matter which requires further analysis and explaining – far more than I have the room for. However, do not always assume that a print you have found, which shows claw marks, is that of a dog. A dogs claws are blunt in nature, but the claw indentations left from an animal such as a puma are narrow and sharp. If you are convinced that you have discovered a cat print, either film or photograph it and always put an object such as a pen, coin or tape measure next to it for size comparison , but also attempt to take a cast or attempt to trace the outline accurately on a clear sheet of plastic. One other characteristic of the puma, is that when the cat walks slowly the rear feet have been known to slightly overlap the prints of the front feet. Finally, it must be said that the best time to find cat prints, is next to a kill. When something like this occurs, it is just a question of finding out which cat instead of wondering if it is a cat.
Cats do not crush food. Their scissor-like teeth and rasping tongue are put into action when a feline form turns its head from side to side allowing the flesh of the victim to be cut up and dissected by the carnassials. In each jaw the cats have six incisors with one canine on each side in both jaws, three premolars on each side of the upper jaw and two below and one molar on each side above. The sharp canines puncture prey by way of severing the spinal chord and then the smaller incisors in-between manipulate the food until the cat is able to swallow it. For the leopard the incisors are rather small yet enable the animal to gnaw bones and puncture skin, but it is the tongue which does most of the work. Its surface is layered with a rough texture, a carpet of pointed bumps which scrape meat from the bone of prey, as well as coming in useful for grooming and lapping at water.
In areas such as the western United States it is legal (at the time of writing )to hunt the Mountain Lion. Attacks on humans have been recorded, in fact a puma can kill prey, such as elk, six times its own size and across the North numbers are increasing, as they are here. The puma is a polygamous felid which has been known to copulate over fifty times a day during a breeding period. The female will not have a den as such, but find shelter for kittens and for giving birth under tree branches or rocky crevices. Whilst hunting, the puma will find cover, moving with stealth until in reasonably close range before dashing at its prey and leaping onto its back. The initial impact can often be enough to kill some prey outright or at least knock it out. It is then that the puma goes for the throat. The cat may remain in the vicinity of the kill site for a number of days, sometimes burying the victim and then returning to uncover it for another meal.
There are many people who contact us who have a natural and genuine fear of cats such as leopard and puma prowling the local fields. They fear for their pets, they fear for their children and they fear for themselves. However, the facts are that right through the last century there were just over fifty recorded attacks on humans by cougar in North America, albeit with over ten deaths. However, the puma is way down the league of dangerous animals and stands in the shadow of snakes, bees and even domestic dogs. It could be said that children are in danger – they are relatively small, and when riding a bicycle they could be perceived by a cougar as something similar to a moving sheep or domestic cat, especially if vision is obscured and the child is on the other side of undergrowth. Large cats are coming into town, especially in Britain where woodlands are not vast when compared to the forests of Africa and the woodlands of British Columbia however, they are secretive cats and so will not be taking to the streets in search of a butcher’s shop! It is advised that you face a cat if you encounter one, and move back slowly, making yourself almost large but many people when put in this situation cannot perform such cool heroics. Indeed, they DO freeze…but in terror. Many people will turn and run, others are just put under a spell as they watch this beautiful creature which on most occasions will slink away casually.
There are some who theorise that the cats which people have seen for many decades in Britain are a species that have always lived here, and that only now are people more aware of these animals hence the more reported sightings. There is far too huge a gap between now and the period when animals such as the leopard roamed Britain, but a cat such as the lynx may well have hung on in some form as it would not have needed to venture into the territory of man to snatch sheep, and strangely enough, the earliest reports of large cats on the loose concerned lynx. People of credibility have put forward beliefs of unknown species of felid, mainly based on eye-witness reports that do not fit in with any known species of cat. In Kent, the possibility that ancient cats exist is basically nil due to the fact that most witnesses are describing known species of large cat, ranging from the black leopard to the caracal. I believe that many of the questionable details are simply down to the fact that most witnesses do not know what many of the exotic cats of the world look like. I have mentioned this before, but it is true. There is a possibility that certain cats have adapted to Britain and their coat and size variation simply reflects the evolutionary adaptation to our climate, which can be said for the jaguar and the leopard. The leopard is known to be considerably larger in mountainous regions whilst in the jungles and remote savannahs it is smaller. Females are two thirds the size of the male, so once again we have a size difference and with the British leopard it seems as though we are only playing host to the melanistic version. This variation in colour is considered rare with regards to the African species but the forest dwelling leopards who have the darker coats are quite common. The jaguar is a larger animal than the leopard, which is slimmer and longer in the leg. In Britain there are reports of black cats with very large heads like that of the j– however, if more details were observed in daylight encounters, we could determine as to what people are seeing because the rosette markings of the jaguar have a central dot. Melanism does occur in the jaguar but it is rarer than in the leopard, and with this felid being the third largest of the big cats, at least some eye-witness reports would support its existence here. During the 1980s in the West-country it was believed that many people were seeing felids not recognised by science, however, there has been no further evidence to suggest we are dealing with large, undiscovered species of cats, although as mentioned before, limited hybridisation is possible and there have been a few unique specimens discovered.
Hunter or the Hunted?
Killer cats are created by the lumbering lunatics who hunt them. Those that hang out in rural hideaways with their air-rifles at the ready, those who set up snares in the hope of finding a manacled prize, and those who rampage across the fields with shotguns after a local pet dog is eaten by an animal that is only doing what it does naturally. Sheep losses in Kent are not a worry when there are so many rabbits around, so prey is in abundance and variety and can be obtained with ease. Kent is not a vast area, nowhere near as vast and remote as the Cornish moor lands, let alone the African plains, yet there is sufficient cover for a handful of large predators, each having its own territory whilst smaller, undetected cats mooch behind the hedgerows. They are harmless but like most animals they can be aggressive, especially when they are protecting young or confronted by maniacal, gun-toting psychotics. The biggest concern is the lack of so-called government interest, or examination from professional body. After the Exmoor and Bodmin ‘beast’ flaps, sightings of large exotic cats across Britain have become almost everyday life. Once, the Marines were concealed in the ditches and now with no further results the petty politics and minor squabbles are clouding an intriguing occurrence, in that large and very exotic cats are inhabiting this island. For some it is an alarming thought – for others one of excitement. It is already too late to even attempt to track one or two of these cats down, it is a situation not quite out of control but it could end up that way if many of us stick our fingers in the pie without the knowledge or understanding of these animals and their way of life.
The authorities are ignorant to the situation and for the felids in question ignorance is bliss. Yet when it comes down to it, what are the authorities going to do anyway? Wipe them out? Accidentally injure one for it to become an irritable man-eater? Spend thousands of pounds stalking the countryside, only once again to be eluded by a creature that would always remain one step ahead? And if these animals are left to their own devices, what happens when the local woodlands and even towns are inhabited even more so by these cats? Can we afford to go with the flow with so many people fearing that large cats will spring from the trees and eat them alive? Well, for now, yes. There is no evidence to suggest that these cats are preying on children and any incidents that do take place are in a minority, and there are certainly more attacks by domestic dogs on youngsters. These cats won’t just go away though – evidence suggests they are breeding healthily all over Britain, and there are more people who respect them as an out of place and very beautiful animal rather than despise them for being here. Unfortunately there are the selected few who continue to rampage through possible habitats, hide in the undergrowth ready to fire at any sign of movement and who blame these cats for every livestock loss. It is these people who will turn at least a handful of cats into dangerous, irritable animals. But for the moment the only wild and truly dangerous animal out there is the one in the mirror.
The cats which roam Kent and Britain should be naturalised, and many are despite being ignored, let alone classed as unofficial residents. Corpses of dead cats will be extremely difficult to find, especially when we consider the lack of badger and fox bodies found. When these two animals die, the remains are gradually ground away by other, smaller scavengers, bones as well. Some animals die underground too, such as the badger, but a cat such as the Leopard, would if injured, crawl to foliage if it were to die, and unless these felines are killed by cars, then it is unlikely that bodies will be found. Although the population of cats in Britain is large, and certainly rising, searching for a body of one would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Finally, it has been estimated that one female leopard, in fifteen to twenty years can produce an alarming number of young. Over the course of these fifteen or so years, many more will be produced by those offspring. So, the future is bright for the British big (and smaller) cats. They must be protected.
It was once believed that only a few large cats inhabited Britain, and that somehow these certain individuals were scouring the whole country, looking for the opposite sex in order to produce offspring. Of course, despite these animals having vast territories, especially in their countries of origin, but not so much in Britain, such claims nowadays are absurd, although it is quite possible cats from Kent are slinking into neighbouring counties, although extensive research seems to prove that the cats in question patrol territories of anything up to eighty-square miles, but some of these hunting grounds will be scarred by obstacles, such as wide rivers, although during darkness motorways are not a problem for these highly intelligent cats.
Each cat out there establishes its own territory but it is very likely that in Britain territories will overlap, the ground of a puma has been proven to fade into the hunting ground of a black leopard, and that’s simply down to the nature of the land and the obstacles these animals face, because in some instances some of these dissecting intrusions are even too much for a cat to conquer, but a number of different species of cat are sharing habitat. This however does not mean they will breed, but they will certainly be aware of each other, but does not mean cat fights will be in abundance.
The territory of a male leopard could well cover the smaller territories of a handful of females, and scent marking will attract attention for mating although aggression can also be displayed in some encounters. Male cats can determine whether or not a compatible partner is a potential female. Sexual hormones are present in female urine and other secretions, and the female cats will often call to attract the attention of a male, or more than one, and even then the female may not be ready and will tend to lash out and become aggressive toward the male, and this can take days, but then finally they will mate, with the females ova only becoming released from the ovary after being stimulated by the actual mating procedure. The mating game is certainly a well constructed practice which attempts to be devoid of any kind of aggression, with the male often making tentative advances in which eventually the female cat will raise her hindquarters, whilst crouching on her stomach, lifting her tail to one side in order for the male to penetrate easily whilst he ‘treads’ her. The male may grip the nape of the female, something which mother cats do to ‘still’ their cubs, although he will be very aware of the power of the females bite in such instances.
Mating is usually over in seconds, there is no pelvic thrust as such, the excitement amounts quickly, and the male is often out of the way before he gets a frightful nip from his ‘lover’. However, the male and female may copulate many times a day, up to one-hundred times in fact, although cats such as the ocelot not so much.
The male penis contains a bone called the bacula which is used to caress and stimulate the female's vaginal walls, and mating may last up to four days on heat, and cats are happy to mate in trees, as well as in shallow water, but such cats mate often simply because one session may not be sufficient to produce young. However, cats such as the l, rely on the availability of prey in order to ovulate, and only become induced ovulators when prey is scarce.
Female cats will seek other males, but in smaller counties of England this is not always possible, but it certainly seems that mating does occur hence the thriving population of cats and reports of large cats with apparent young.
Thankfully, in Britain, there is not much threat to young cats, and they should be able to adapt to terrain quite easily, although in some areas the roaming female may struggle to provide food for them, despite the abundance of rabbits, birds, rodents in the British countryside. The female felid will bring prey to young in order for them to play with, and practice their hunting techniques which they will also develop by playing amongst themselves. A female cat will often return to a certain den to raise young, and the young will leave the den permanently after around six weeks although the ‘family’ remains intact for a couple of years. Larger cats do remain dependant on their mother more so than the smaller cats, possibly because in their countries of origin larger cats such as the leopard are able to develop hunting skills and gain strength which enables them to bring down heavy, yet often dangerous prey, whereas smaller felines take to hunting more easily simply because they hunt prey smaller than themselves.
So, if so many leopards roam Britain, cats which, in their native countries bring down large prey, then why aren’t they attacking humans ? Well, just like any animal, it becomes used to its environment, and recognises prey from a young age. Cases in Britain that appear to show humans that have been attacked by exotic cats are dubious to say the least. Cats have an acute sense of hearing, so it would not be that easy to disturb a cat at close quarters or step upon it, or approach it easily and this has been proven with our own encounters with Lynx and black leopard. Domestic cats are not going to be frequent prey, simply because they are not too different from their relatives, they have acute senses and so are unlikely to sit around and wait for a large cat to come and consume them. Even so, if such an encounter occurred, any exotic cat isn’t going to want to risk getting clawed when there is much easier prey around. The same could be said for us humans. These cats are not starving felines that will come into our villages and tear us from our gardens, they have adapted perfectly to the countryside that we believe does not provide sufficient habitat or fodder despite the fact that there are more animals out there than we realise, and enough livestock which provides a twenty-four hour restaurant.