In 1998 the local press had a field day with a set of photographs taken by Harry Matthews who worked at the RSPB at Cooling, an arable landscape of long grasses and marshland. On several occasions he'd spotted an unusual and large cat in the undergrowth, but as it came closer he snapped several images of the animal which were to make the front page of the Kent Today. Unfortunately, although the paper asked, "Is this the beast of Blue Bell Hill ?", two extremely huge doubts emerged over the photo's. For one, the area of Cooling is nowhere near Blue Bell Hill, therefore impossible to suggest that even a large cat would patrol Maidstone one night and then the next Cooling. Secondly, the animal wasn't a black leopard, the photo plastered on the front page deceived greatly. Although the picture appeared to show a dark coloured and muscular felid with a long tail, closer analysis, and also the emergence of a second photo proved that the cat was nothing of the sort. The image itself was completely authentic, Mr Matthews had certainly photographed a mysterious cat, but the undergrowth which the animal stood in before it bounded away, tended to distort its form, making its shoulders appear muscular and its tail long and curved. However, after Mr Matthews had taken a photo of the cat standing beneath a tree, the animal became spooked and ran away, but Harry was quick enough to snap again, revealing a very different felid.
The cat on the headline page certainly appeared to be a leopard-sized felid, dark chocolate colour as melanistic leopards are, but the animal photographed running away was very different, something akin to a Jungle Cat/domestic cat hybrid or, as one expert suggested, an Asiatic Golden Cat. The 'running cat' photo shows an animal weighing between 20 and 30lbs, with a rabbit-shaped head. The body is slender, dark brown, with skinny legs, the rear legs showing a mottled or possibly spotted pattern, and a tail thin and the same length as a domestic cat. Oh how the images contradicted each other, and yet both were 100% genuine and of the same cat. Unfortunately, the images have been featured on various websites also, and we believe they are perfect evidence that unusual cats do roam this country, and not all them leopard and puma size. However, even senior cat keeper at Port Lympne, Adrian Harland couldn't identify the animal. You decided.
Photo's taken by Harry Matthews.