This year (2007) has once again broken the records for KENT BIG CAT RESEARCH with an estimated 264 'big cat' reports being received as the year draws to a close.
The usual hot-spots of activity have once again been consistent, Ashford, Sevenoaks, Maidstone, Romney Marsh, Canterbury, and Gravesend and Dartford all figuring heavily but the semi-rural areas of London have provided the most surprises. For many, the 'beast' of Bexley was very much a myth despite handfuls of sightings in areas such as Bexleyheath, Bromley, Hayes, Crayford, Welling and Plumstead, but now London can be considered a serious area of 'big cat' activity with sightings of both puma and black leopard, although it seems as though the territories of cats in Dartford, Orpington, Croydon, Biggin Hill and and Swanley are also covering the outskirts of the capital, rather than seeing exotic felids actually restricted to the hustle and bustle of the city.
The large populations of cats in the south-east means that a majority of towns have their own 'beast' legend. It was nice to see places such as Faverhsam, Swanscombe, West Malling
In Kent the classic 'beast' of Blue Bell Hill, as well as Sheppey leopard and Bluewater 'big cat' have continued to rear their heads, proving certainly in the case of the Blue Bell Hill cat, that there's been more than one animal out there for a long time. the Bluewater mystery cat has, unsurprisingly, not stuck to the area of the mall, but instead used its territory as far as Higham.
Into Sussex and once again a variety of large cats have been sighted from St Leonard's to Uckfield, and from Lewes to Battle, despite wildlife officers remaining sceptical as to the existence of such animals.
Reports of animals with cubs have thankfully continued, and been frequent throughout the year.
Around 50% of the sightings KENT BIG CAT RESEARCH received involved motorists travelling to or from work, with 35% of these being recorded from the early hours or at dusk, and 64 % of sightings concerned sightings of black leopards, the rest being made up of puma, lynx and smaller cats still such as jungle cat, and in one case even a South-American jaguarundi!
Again, evidence suggests that large cats are mainly preying on rabbits, pheasants, pigeons and deer, and despite six very close encounters with 'big cats', no-one has yet been hurt, but this isn't to say that such an incident will not occur. In the summer 'big cats' were given bad press when chef Gordon Ramsay had one of his lambs eaten on the Beckham's estate in Buckinghamshire, but thankfully not cat was hunted.
KENT BIG CAT RESEARCH also received several reports of the famed Surrey 'puma' and also black leopard, and also received several calls from people who had released cats into the wilds, recently and in the past.
Unfortunately, 'big cats' although taken more seriously, are still considered the stuff of myth and legend and will probably become embedded in the annals of local folklore due to lack of thorough investigation, and the fact that too many so-called 'experts' and authorities remain dismissive of their existence. What we must realise is, just because a zoologist doesn't believe in them, or a zoo keeper scoffs at them, does not mean they aren't out there. Zoologist's, wildlife officers etc, may be experts in their chosen field but are clearly not at all knowledgeable or investigative in the realm of 'big cat' sightings in the UK. The police are often hopeless when it comes to local investigations, and the press are only ever interested in a headline, whilst the books claiming that 'big cats' are demons or supernatural should be prevented from seeing the light of day.
The public is not informed sufficiently regarding the situation, and as we have stated before, the biggest mystery of the whole scenario is the fact that it's become a mystery at all!
Sightings of large cats will continue for many, many years and incidents will occur that require more than just a quick glance. It's also a shame that not more thorough research is being done and only a handful of genuine researchers still continue to bring the situation to the fore.
Neil Arnold December 2007