Every now and then a completely ridiculous story makes the local, and sometimes national newspapers, concerning 'big cat' sightings. The latest, pertaining to Kent, comes from the Daily Star newspaper of Saturday January 15th 2011, under the headline, 'Panther alert at A-plant'. Now, as we all know, newspapers aren't exactly the most knowledgeable sources when it comes to facts, but the following story simply makes a complete mockery of the so-called 'big cat' mystery.
The report read: 'Up to 13 black panthers are living near a UK nuclear power station. The big cats are blamed for a spate of attacks on sheep on Romney Marsh near the Dungeness atomic planet.'
The first sentence alone is enough to send serious researchers cringing back to their homes, but it gets worse, the Daily Star adds, 'Wildlife expert Dave Riches has seen panthers on the Kent marsh several times and believes there are up to 13. Farmers have found dead sheep up trees where panthers eat, Dave added: "There are big claw marks on the trees."
There are so many things wrong with this report, but I guess we could expect such inaccuracy and drama from a tabloid, but for any researcher, serious, or otherwise to state, or even be included in a statement which claims there are "13 panthers" on Romney Marsh, needs their head examined. Many people state that Romney Marsh is a vast area - in Kent it may be considered so, but it's not the wilds of Africa. Whilst there have, in the past, been sightings of black leopard, puma and lynx around the area, there are NOT "13" 'panthers' inhabiting it. A large cat such as a black leopard (or what newspapers are keen to call 'panthers') has a vast territory, an animal, mainly hunting at night could comb an area of some fifty to one-hundred square miles. When a solitary male and female meet they can produce up to four cubs. However, there is NO evidence whatsoever to suggest that "13" leopards are roaming an area which simply could NOT harbour them. The marsh is very open, at times desolate, !13" black leopards would stick out like a sore thumb and certainly be a danger to the public and sheep would be killed at an alarming, and not an infrequent rate. A leopard does not have a fixed den but will roam an area searching for food. The marsh provides ample enough food for one or two of these animals. If a female produces cubs they will stay with the mother for around eighteen-months and then make their own way in life in their own territory. Surrounding areas such as Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Deal, could also provide enough habitat and prey, but again, for a small pocket of animals, and not "13" 'panthers.
It's no wonder there is scepticism towards the existence of such animals when silly headlines and statements constantly filter through to the press. Usually we are used to the 'beast of...' type tags, but for a wildlife 'expert' to claim there are "13" panthers roaming one specific area of Kent is beyond the realms of madness. It's more than likely the area may become besieged with hunters, and once again the study of such animals is made a mockery of.