Tuesday 27 March 2007

Caught on film: The Cooling cat.

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 Ju
ngle 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.

Sunday 25 March 2007

The Sheppey 'big cat'.

For several years rumours have spread of a large cat roaming the Isle of Sheppey, 60 sq miles of marshland teeming with a veritable feast of wildlife. A local man on the island DID once own a puma but the cat most often sighted around areas such as Minster, Eastchurch and Leysdowne is in fact a black leopard.
No-one knows how the animal got there, although it is likely that the felid came on the island via the bridge, possibly one night, or it was simply released onto the island a few years ago. There were also rumours that a leopard was shot and killed on the island but there's no evidence to suggest such an incident happened.
A black cat, bigger than a domestic cat and certainly 'panther-like' was filmed and put up on You Tube but now the footage has been removed.

Although the footage is brief and blurry, anyone with any knowledge of 'big cats' should easily be able to identify this animal as a leopard. The first frame shows the incredible length of the body, the low arching back and muscular shoulders, and the long tail.

Over the last few years there have also been rumours that a large, black cat was shot and killed during a pheasant shoot. There is no evidence to suggest such an incident occurred.

New species of leopard.


When is a 'panther' not a 'panther' ?

The term ‘panther’ is one, which especially in Britain, confuses, and many ‘researchers are guilty of using the word. The press are the most guilty of using a categorisation they do not understand, especially when they so casually speak of black panthers. Across the U.S.A., ‘panther’ only describes one species of felid, that being the puma ( Cougar, Mountain Lion ), which is also known in folkloric terms as the ‘mountain devil’, ‘ghost cat’ and the ‘painter’. In the United States the term ‘black panther’ creates an almost impossible image, that being the possibility that there could be an abundant population of melanistic puma, despite the fact these darker coated animals are considered ultra-rare, in fact non-existent. In the United Kingdom the press make matters even more confused by constantly featuring reports in their pages of black panthers, or black, ‘puma-like’ cats, when the reality is, 99%, if not 100% of these statements are inaccurate. But what do they care ?
It is highly unlikely that an abundant population
of black cougars roam the U.S., despite it being this particular cats homeland, and so to suggest that black puma roam Britain is ridiculous. It is amazing at how so many members of the public have never even heard of the black leopard, the species which mainly answers for a majority of big, black cat sightings, especially in Kent anyway. Across the U.S.A., and judging by historical accounts, some believe, albeit in folkloric terms, that black puma do exist. Some, albeit a very minute number of darker coated specimens have been spoken of, allegedly photographed, killed or at least sighted by those in the right place at the right time, and annually thousands of reports in the U.S. do appear to describe cats that fit the puma description, yet the animals in question do have pure black coats, or very dark coats. However, do the public expect every ‘cat’ to be a cougar if such an animal is their native felid ? If people across the U.S. are seeing released melanistic leopards, would they report their sighting as a black leopard or as a clack cougar ? The puma coat coloration varies from reddish-fawn, from brown to silvery grey, and at times its coat varies depending on the region of its habitat with greyish animals often sighted towards the northern area of its range, whilst in more wooded, humid areas the puma coat is said to be reddish in colour. Coat thickness also varies depending on habitat, and whilst melanistic cougars are said to inhabit Southern and Central America, albino felids are even more scarce. The U.S. has a similar situation as the U.K. in regards to possible existence of cougars, although it seems likely that those that roam areas of the States are simply elusive generations spawned from those that were allegedly wiped out during the early 1900s. A number of felids in the U.S. are considered to be discarded pets, but due to their secret nature this cannot be proven otherwise, especially with the vast woodlands they inhabit.
It is ridiculous to suggest that the cats which inhabit the U.S., the UK, and Australia are all released pets, because the facts are, anyone who may have kept a cat, twenty to thirty years ago, or even now, do not necessarily house their exotics in dilapidated, shambolic surroundings to the extent that these animals escape for fun leaving the owner not giving a damn. Many people that owned exotic cats in the UK during
the ‘50s, ‘60s etc, wouldn’t all of a sudden release the pets they loved so dearly, although it is fair to say that there are cases where cats would have been obtained for a low price, and still can be obtained, and released on purpose, especially as the animals in question become more than cuddly novelties and out grow their basement cage. Put simply though, there must have already been cats in the wilds of Great Britain, but over time the press, and some researchers would have you believe that this imaginary explosion has taken place since the introduction of the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act, but one only has to exhaustively search through historical reports of exotic cat sightings to realise this situation has been here for many years, but as a very much ignored situation that is no busier now than it ever has been, it’s just that more people are looking into the scenario, knowledgeable or not. And so began the fickle hunt for the ‘panthers’.
Across the U.S. exhaustive research conducted to siphon out the obscure, historical accounts, eye-witness reports, and documented snippets has enabled the ‘black cats’ of today to make more sense. In Britain there was no serious research until cats such as the Surrey puma flaps came along, the press failed to latch onto the reports, but reports were few and far between because there was no real reason to report anything, and so it appears that the counties across the U.K., with every single one having cat activity, appear to have huge gaps regarding sightings, although others do appear in anecdotic conditions, as most things of that nature do, despite the fact that these animals are very real. From the Victorian era and through the war ravaged first half of the 1900s, no-one was interested in reports of wild cats, but it is very likely that people were seeing strangely large felid almost as regular as they are now.

If black panthers in their truest form roam the planet then melanistic pumas, albeit being extremely rare, have been propelled, unintentionally, into the limelight, despite being the most unlikely candidate for the big, black cat reports when melanism is common in a number of other cat species and the Jaguarundi, is a relatively dark coated cat which is native across Texas, Arizona and much of South America, although it resembles an otter, but does have a small head, rounded ears, shortish legs which support a slender body, with a tail that can measure over fifty centimetres. These are characteristics often recalled in some eye-witness reports describing dark coated ‘puma’, whilst the Jaguarundi, which is unlikely to be behind some cat sightings in the U.K., although not impossible, also has a varying coat. However, if real, dark coated cougars are prowling the U.S., it is surely the only region that should harbour them, simply because it is their native habitat but what is the likelihood that even 25% of reports of black cats in Britain are of melanistic puma ? Remote, to say the least. Yes, there are still many who cannot accept that even the natural melanistic leopards roam Britain, let alone the United States, despite the fact that many people during the 1960s would have found the black leopard to have been the most trendy and ‘flash’ of cats to own. In Australia people still question the existence of black leopards, let alone the possible existence of the once native Tasmanian Tiger. The facts are, with only the last thirty years or so being concentrated on research into reports, means that any period of time prior would have given any felids enough time to establish themselves, breed, die, breed, die etc, etc. If people were not interested in reports of big cats in places they shouldn’t be, then for what could well be over one-hundred years or more, a great number of varying exotics could have exploded time and time again population, more so to during periods when woodland was far greater than it is now, and it is because of this shrinkage in habitat, due to human development, that more and more of these cats, especially in the U.S.A. and U.K. are being seen. It also must be said that it is impossible to surmise as to how many cats are in Britain, let alone larger counties where they shouldn’t be. The so-called research being put in is hardly scratching the surface, because these animals can remain undetected for years, especially smaller cats, especially as they are often misunderstood due to poor press coverage, and so-called research being aimed at them is nothing more than a bit of ‘fame’ and attention for the so-called enthusiasts, when the reality is, animals such as the leopard, even when tracked and monitored by professional people, in the heart of countries such as Africa, despite the animals territory being monitored, have disappeared from human view for over a year, with females only returning to certain areas to give birth. Britain can certainly provide enough heavy cover for animals naturally elusive, and despite human intrusion these animals will always remain far too elusive for the human detection. Thank goodness for that.
Would people during the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and previous, have even known what sort of cats that were obtaining ? There is a good chance that a number of exotic cats taken in were for the novelty, and so cats such as the caracal, jungle cat and the African/Asian golden cat, despite being endangered in some parts of their native countries as well as hardly seen, would have established themselves here, remaining undetected probably for most of their short lives. However, could such cats, and even rarer cats only seen in zoos, roam Britain ? Well, it seems likely. If reports are few and far between of a certain type of cat, does not necessarily mean it must be dismissed. Cats such as the leopard and the puma will have far larger territories than something like the caracal, and so there is more of a chance that a four-feet long, black animal will be sighted, despite moving mainly at night. However, we only have to look at the various reports through the years in Britain of a ‘lioness’ or ‘tiger’ for one to realise that a number of people are unsure as to what they are dealing with and seeing, so it is certainly possible that run down collections have housed several smaller cats, which their appalling owners have thought were something indeed they were not.
If someone obtained a melanistic golden cat, either after being told it was a black leopard, or simply wanting a black ‘big cat’, and such an animal escaped and bred as a pair, then black offspring would be evident. This isn’t to say that in the wilds of Kent or anywhere else in the British Isles there are large numbers of melanistic caracal or golden cat, but in a few cases such animals would explain the unusual reports of smaller exotic cats with dark coats, that quite simply to do not appear to be leopard young. It must also be said that it is quite possible that cats such as the Asiatic and African golden cat are also mistaken for the puma in some instances, simply because to the untrained eye of the general public due to the fact that much of the public is unaware of the different species of cat, especially when for so long they have always believed puma are black. The African golden cat ( felis aurata ) is a strong felid with a smallish head, long legs and is over twice the size of a domestic cat, standing twenty inches at the shoulder, with a body length of two-and-a half-feet, with a coat of great variation that be anything from reddish fawn to greyish with a white underside, as well as some species having some dotting. Black specimens have been recorded in this species, but more so in the Asiatic golden cat which seems the most likely cat to feature in some reports of alleged puma which somehow do not seem to fit in with puma reports.

The Asiatic golden cat, (felis temmincki – named after Coenraad Jacob Temminck, the Dutch naturalist who described the African golden cat ), is slightly larger than its relation, but again there are variations in size and colour with melanism occurring often. In some cases, especially in Kent melanistic versions may be behind so-called black leopard reports and the golden brown to darker brown variation may also be behind some puma reports, as the Temminck’s Cat has a thick tail throughout with white underside, ears are rounded and these felids can reach well over two-feet in length, however some specimens have spotted flanks. Unfortunately little is known about this cat in its native land so for it to be monitored in Britain is nigh on impossible, especially as cats like the caracal, are being lumped in with the reports of other cats, simply because those that see these elusive cats cannot give the defining details

We cannot ignore the possibility that Britain, and the counties within its fold could well harbour smaller exotic cats and in some instances, not necessarily as many large cats as one might think. However, this would then suggest that a number of golden cats, caracal, etc , would have had to have escaped from somewhere in the first place in order to spawn the current population, but this isn’t necessarily so. A steady influx of cats, from a) private collections, b) zoo escapees, c) genuine generations spawned from families several years ago, d) cats used aboard boats for ratting which have come ashore, e) in some cases especially imported either to be hunted, or released deliberately, would provide the countryside with a fair amount of cats, but as I have said before, we cannot dismiss the possibility that other cats roam the counties when in the past felids such as jungle cats and leopards cats have been killed on the roads. Certainly, some reports in Kent suggest species of felid away from the usual reported cats, but across Britain there are many cats reported too casually and taken for granted in the sense that possible populations of golden cat, caracal etc, are ignored simply because infrequent reports of them are not taken seriously or do not seem to fit in with that particular areas activity. However, as mentioned before, whilst black leopard and puma reports can filter it at an extraordinary rate, reports of smaller exotic can be pretty much one a year, but unless that particular case is looked in to adequately, such a cat cannot be identified.
There is no consistency with regards to reports of the normal spotted leopard or the jaguar in Britain, but again, people are never quite sure what they are seeing or obtaining. The jaguar, according to wild cat author C.A.W. Guggisberg, was once considered the ‘panther’ in Venezuela during the 1500s, simply because the witness who described these great cats, Amerigo Vespucci, had observed incorrectly simply like everyday eye-witnesses do.
The jaguar is a powerful animal, with a large head that houses the strongest teeth of all the cats. The main difference between the jaguar and the leopard is the fact that the jaguar (panthera onca) is a very heavy set animal, its head is more rounded, has massive limbs albeit short and a tail not usually longer than about one-third of head and body. The jaguar can appear reddish-yellow, pale buff with black spots on the head, neck and limbs with large black blotches on its under parts. On the shoulders, flanks and back of the jaguar spots form into large rosettes which have within them one or several dots, whilst on the back of the great cat elongated black spots run in a row.

Jaguar coat (left) Leopard coat (right)

The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976

Conditions subject to which the Licence is Granted.
1. While any animal concerned is being kept only under the authority of the Licence:
a) The animal shall be kept by no person other than the person specified above.
b) The animal shall normally be held at the premises specified on the licence.
c) The animals shall not be moved from those premises without authorisation by the Borough Environmental Health Officer and shall not be moved except for the purpose of veterinary attention or to:
· A zoological garden
· A circus
· Premises licensed as a pet shop under the Pet Animals Act 1951
· A place registered pursuant to the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 for the purpose of performing experiments.
Premises licensed to keep such animals under the provisions of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976
d) The person to whom the Licence is granted shall hold a current insurance policy which insures him against liability for any damage which may be caused by the animals and the terms of such policy shall be approved by the Council.

2. The species and number of animals of each species which may be kept under the authority of the Licence shall be restricted to those specified on the licence.

3. Where snakes are kept the applicant shall provide to the satisfaction of the Borough Environmental Health Officer snake-proof wire screens to the window used for the ventilation of and the door to the room in which the animals are kept.

4. The animals shall be kept in containers constructed of materials and be so designed that they will not burn, shatter or collapse when involved in fire to the extent where animals could escape.

5. A properly constructed notice bearing the words “WARNING – DANGEROUS ANIMALS” in 2 inch high block letters on a conspicuous background shall be securely affixed to the outside of the door of the room in which the animals are kept.

6. The door of the room in which the animals are kept shall be securely locked closed at all times when the animals are not being attended to.

7. In the case of snakes an antidote to the venom of the snakes shall be provided by the person to whom the Licence is granted and shall readily be available at all times including during transportation of the animals.

8. Transportation
a) Transportation of the animal shall only be undertaken in an approved stoutly made container so constructed that it will not shatter or collapse in the event of impact or fire and at all times secures that the animal shall not escape.
b) A properly constructed notice bearing the words “WARNING – DANGEROUS ANIMALS” in one inch high block letters on a conspicuous background shall be securely affixed to the outside of the container in which the animal is kept.
c) Details of species of animal, availability of the antidote and the names and addresses of the consignor and consignee must be clearly displayed on the container.
d) The Licence holder shall ensure that all the above transportation requirements are complied with if the transportation of the animal is undertaken by a third person other than the consignor or consignee.


(Rabbit print in snow)
Researching reports of exotic cats is all well and good but for KENT BIG CAT RESEARCH this has been taken further. There are authorative groups out there who, with a click of the fingers, can, to some extent, protect these exotic cats. Projects can be set up in order to tag certain individuals for monitoring purposes, so if attacks occur then maybe a cat could be destroyed/ sectioned that way. By doing this many cat species can be looked into, to determine how long they have been there, how old they are, whether they have been released from private collections, whether they are part of a healthy family, what prey they are taking more than others, their territories, and whether a specific cat is taking a farmer’s lambs, or there is more than one cat in the area of the same or different species.
If someone kills a large cat on the road in their car, they will no longer have to leave it there, or bag it up and take it home either to bury it or to make money from it. Such ‘news’ wouldn’t have to be main news, a cat killed by a vehicle would
be no more news than a badger being killed and that’s what is required. Such is the abundance of exotic felids nationwide, that it is no longer of use to talk about whether they are there or not, this is mindless regurgitation and something the enthusiastic ‘cat researchers’, who have made it their hobby, should be doing, by sitting at a PC all day and filing useless reports.
Britain needs a strong, yet small team of researchers to be employed to look after the felids that are well established across the U.K. The public needs to be informed about these elusive animals, but more so, all this needs to be done with a degree of officialdom and not under some folklore blanket. Your ordinary joe-public researcher would not know how to deal with a case regarding a dead leopard, or if someone came to them and reported that their child had been badly injured by an angry Lynx, and this is a scary thought. What is even more scary is the thought that some researchers would run off to the local newspaper or ring ITN news, just to make a name for themselves. What we need in these kind of circumstances, should they reach the press, is for calm, and for reports to be of a scientific, zoological nature, and that it should be a concern for us all if a cat is killed, and not a news story that creates hysteria.
Shooting parties, and even shooting magazines, as of the time of writing, are offering rewards for anyone who can bag a ‘big cat’ as long as it is seen on farm land worrying, or killing sheep etc. This is an awful way of bringing these animals to the news, and a terrible way to gain knowledge of these animals, and it also shows the naivety of these people who still believe that shooting such an animal is the only way to prove they exist, when as I have already stated, the research is way beyond that now.
There needs to be an official body to look into the cat situation. Whilst local researchers are doing their bit by filing reports, these will simply just mount forever all the time these animals are not accepted. The only reason they are not being accepted is due to the prospect of some kind of hysteria which we do not believe will occur anyway. It’s not as if the government are admitting to ‘alien beings’ or something so stupid, but simply the fact that populations of exotic cats are healthily living in our wilds and that they have been there centuries, and not just the last thirty or so years. Every report, piece of evidence and other related situation will then no longer be a mere part of an unresolved situation which at the time revolves around petty investigators, but it will be a simple bout of research, which, as the days go by, is sadly lacking. At the moment there are so many lunatics roaming the woodlands doing absolutely nothing although they will swear blind that they are doing something.
Marksmen are taking to the hills of Wales, Marines hide in the ravines of Exmoor, shooters prowl the moors of Bodmin, etc, etc, but why ? What are they hoping to achieve ? If one ‘big cat’ is killed, does that end the mystery ? No. However, if these animals are seriously and officially looked into, tagged, monitored, and understood, then if an attack occurs, it can be solved as such. If sheep are loss frequently, the matter will be resolved. If a cat is killed on the roads, it can be discussed, etc, etc. This may of course take the shine off the situation for the so-called researcher who searches for their personal treasure, but this pedestrian outlook only hinders research, for this research needs to be far bigger than any petty researcher, it needs to involve a governing body
that no longer needs to secretly remove a splattered ‘big cat’ from a motorway in a white van, for it can instead turn around and say, “…one of Britain’s ‘big cats’ has been killed, please be careful for this is a tragic accident”.
If someone is unfortunately attacked by a cougar, something can be done about it because if the individual felid has been tagged, it can be dealt with. There will be no need for hysterical posse’s of people scouring the countryside. Unfortunately, at the moment many people believe there is some kind of top-secret conspiracy regarding the exotic cat situation, we believe it has more to do with something that is out of hand and the response that authorities fear from the public should the so-called ‘alarming’ truth be revealed. All matters ‘big cat’ related, whether they are escapees from zoo’s or private collections, evidence, bodies, injured cats, etc, etc could be dealt with easily and efficiently. This WILL happen simply because of the insistence of the situation.
Large cats such as the puma, and the leopard (the leopard has almost fictionally become known as a man-eater in parts of Africa, and tales of lore speak of man-killing cats, but this has been blown out of proportion and such attack are rare.) have become habituated to the presence of vehicles and people around them. This of course does not make them any less dangerous, but guidelines should be provided to people in the community, by way of woodland notice board’s etc, regarding possible encounters with cats, because people do not know what signs to look for when they encounter such an animal.
Man is the most likely cause of an aggressive cat, especially if one is shot. People who encounter an aggressive felid should never panic and flee, sudden movements may cause the cat to also panic and rush at you, so it is advised to keep your eye on the animal and back off slowly. How you conduct yourself in such encounters is vitally important to the outcome. At times it has been advised by some researchers to make a loud noise at the animal, to wave your arms and to stand as big as possible, but this rule is not strictly true, it depends entirely on the animal which may of course attack your sudden movements. Such animals always need an escape route as well, so cornering such an animal in an old building is not advised.
People constantly contact KENT BIG CAT RESEARCH in order to ‘see’ cats as if we have some magic answer. We often travel to locations over several years, and put many hours into research not just to hopefully see a cat, but to monitor the entire area to see whether it can hold a cat, this is not just about the cat, but also the area it inhabits and the wildlife it shares its habitat with. It certainly isn’t about attempting to film these cats, rarely do we now take cameras with us, we know where the territories are, but more importantly we often monitor areas to see if the animals in question
are still healthy, and footage taken is a bonus for research purposes.
Of course, we cannot stop the avid enthusiast, however dangerous they may be, patrolling through the muddy woodlands. These sort of people bombard us with questions as to what signs to look for, how to film a cat, although in most cases these cats are very aware of approaching people, and any chance of filming one if very remote and often by pure chance if you do not know an area well enough and where the cat is moving.
Those who seek a so-called ‘unofficial’ animal in Britain’s woodlands are putting themselves at a small risk. Flushing an animal from hiding is not a good idea at all, and this can happen as many people tend to stalk the woodlands, approaching areas on foot where they are better of staking one area out, but the trouble is with such enthusiasts is that they have no patience, they need to be on the move, going from one area to another. However, it is unlikely that anyone can get that close to a large cat, but take into account the wind direction at all times, and try to approach from the downwind side. Being quiet is an obvious approach, but ‘quiet’ to a human is very different to the ‘quiet’ of a cat. People tend to ‘creep’ through the woods, breaking twigs, cracking dry leaves, flashing away with their camera, and truly believe they are being quiet. In fact, ideal research can be done more adequately from a vehicle. A great number of cat sightings occur on roads, but also, in the wilds of Africa and the likes much research is done from vehicles, where researchers can stop for a while and assess a situation, checking the surrounding areas. If you are able to see a cat, you can determine what mood it is in if you are close enough, and you always remain safe. If there is an area where there are young or a kill, this can be a hostile time, so again, being in a vehicle is far safer. Unfortunately, the avid researcher is not about ‘research’, it’s more of a case of getting together with a few friends and trudging through the woods once a sighting has been made. Nice! (And as usual they see nothing).
Tracking an animal such as a leopard is extremely dangerous. As we have already stated, attacks on humans in the U.K. are pretty much non-existent. However, the picture changes once a person goes looking for an animal that may have young or could be protecting a kill. These animals use camouflage perfectly, but will give no warning before a charge. People that get close to such an animal will hear a deep cough or hiss as a warning. In some cases the cat may run off and then crouch, facing you, be alert to this. Signs to look for are as follows:
Ø Staring fixedly.
Ø The baring of teeth and snarling.
Ø Crouched head and the flattening of the ears.
Ø Ears held forwards and the head held up.
Ø Head lowered as the animal stands side-on.
Ø A Leopard may approach several times as a warning to you to back off.
Ø When in a vehicle that is being charged by a Leopard, always back off a considerable distance which the animal feels comfortable with.

Those who tend to scour the countryside looking for ‘big cats’ tend to believe that signs are extremely easy to find, but this is not the case, especially when people do not know what to look for. Beforehand, it is best to eliminate the evidence left by native species such as deer, foxes, dogs, badgers etc, which can be scratch marks, droppings, paw-prints etc. Some droppings are very common in woodlands, and you will be familiar with them no doubt, i.e. rabbits etc, but in areas where deer are rarely sighted, there are going to be signs of animals you are not familiar with, so instead of simply looking for ‘big cat’ signs, try at first to eliminate signs of other animals. Droppings from cows (cowpat) and horses are easily identifiable, as are those of dogs, but badgers, deer, foxes, even otters are signs you may stumble across and not recognize.
Deer droppings are cylindrical with a pointed end, fox droppings are more slender than those of a dog with twisted, tapering ends and the droppings of a badger are similar but they tend to leave them in a shallow pit but do not cover them over. Otter droppings are smaller, known as spraints, they smell fishy and are black in colour with a sticky texture, whereas sheep and goat droppings can look like large rabbit droppings. Anything smaller than a fox is unlikely to be of a large cat, but if anything interests you then take a sample, by wearing gloves and using tweezers, and put your sample in a small bag.

Once the cats of Britain have been established we cannot really see a government programme put into effect that not only accepts these animals but also protects them within the countryside. National parks will not be created in the near future because the countryside as it is provides just the right frame of territory yet is already decreasing due to development. Some animals may be captured and sent to zoos, there are certainly some that would take them here in Britain. It is important that the plants and animals that co-exist alongside these cats are also nurtured, natural wilderness is essential regardless, but even more so especially with so many people fearing that these animals will start coming into towns on a more regular basis if the natural habitat is demolished.
The cats which inhabit Kent are not at risk as such, but there are a number of people who do not want them out there. The
future is important, especially if these animals begin to diminish, there are indeed many who believe we should welcome such animals, especially lynx into our back yards as such. Of course, there may come a time when these animals are monitored to the extent that we have a rough estimate of numbers and species, and so it is then down to some programme or organisation to protect them, and more so the smaller cats because we feel that there is still a lot of hostile views towards the bigger cats such as Puma and more so Leopard inhabiting Britain.
The Florida Panther (cougar) were mostly wiped out a few years ago in comparison to the last surviving British felids which last emerged thousands of years ago. Britain is very much a different place now, and in just twenty years woodlands are cruelly obliterated with ease to make way for noisy motorways and other concrete giants. Those that are fond of their wildlife should be taking the matter of British ‘big cats’ seriously, but this also means an understanding with landowners, wildlife authorities and even businesses. The most promising aspect of the British cat situation at the moment concerns the gene flow of the black leopards which appears healthy. Rather bizarrely, there appear to be more sightings of these animals here than in parts of Africa. These animals have only just come under study in parts of Africa where sightings are few and far between, causing authorities to realise that these animals are beautiful and rare and so efforts must be made to save them. Around the 1960s reports of black leopards in East Africa were almost non-existent but more recently small clusters of sightings have done brilliantly for the tourist industry in areas such as Mpumalanga and also brought into effect conservation programmes. Money has been offered so that scientists can study the melanistic variety and protect them before it’s too late, this will involve baiting and then tagging in order to estimate territorial range. Those that see the animals are advised to report their sightings knowing they will be taken seriously, which is something that is still not assured in Britain, with still so many people, including police not really interested or knowledgeable enough to handle reports and also researchers who handle their reports like children with new toys.
Areas which these cats inhabit should be monitored but not disturbed, however, there are still times even with our own indigenous wildlife that we fail to respect or even recognise the importance of their presence. Many people have never sighted badgers, or ever realised just how often foxes frequent their own back yards. Just like the even more elusive cats, people only have chance encounters with badgers and foxes despite many of these animals being in abundance and on the doorstep. Indeed, badgers, the most vicious native animal to Britain, and certainly one of the toughest animals in the world, are amazing yet often ignored creatures which most of the general public have not a clue about. Such an animal may also confuse some ‘big cat’ researchers too as they stumble their way through woodlands looking for ‘big cats’ which, surprise, surprise, are never sitting there waiting to have their photo taken! The Eurasian Badger ( meles meles ) can grow to around three-feet in length and in the area of a sett have one or more scratching posts. These are usually situated near the holes which are ‘D’ shaped (flat-side downwards ) and over 20 cms wide and bigger than those of a fox. The trees scratched are usually elder trees although ash, hawthorn etc are also used. Badgers will scratch trees up to around three-feet but have been seen to climb a little higher and shred bark although other trees are less damaged. The leopard will scratch a tree to sharpen its claws although it has been theorised that the cats do this to leave a
scent, in the same way a badger does, although female leopards urinate up trees. Badgers have scent glands beneath their toes and territories are marked this way. Many cat enthusiasts may well stumble upon these markings which are quite impressive and the damaged bark may not always show the fifth toe claw mark, which can also be said for paw-prints although a badger print is quite distinguishable as a kidney-shaped heel pad, (usually) five toes arranged in a line, and long claws, especially on the front feet which are also larger than the rear two.
Badger scratch-posts may also have snuffle holes in the vicinity, as well as scratched rocks which have been dug from the sett, and around the tree there may be a trampled area where the badger has moved in order to scratch. It may also be worth looking out for badger hairs which can measure around 8cm, being whitish in colour with a 2 cm black band which then melts into a white tip. These hairs will be coarse but also stained by dirt.
The domestic cat, fox and Labrador dog, which sceptics argue are the real identity behind a majority of cat sightings in the UK.

About cats.

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:
*Sub-Saharan Africa
*North Africa & Southwest Asia
*Tropical Asia
*The Americas
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.

Ancient Cats

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.

Monday 19 March 2007

Most commonly asked questions.

How long do 'big cats' live for in the wilds ?
Are they solitary hunters or do they prowl in groups ?
What evidence has been gathered to prove their existence ?
How many 'big cat' sightings are reported each year in Kent and also across the UK ?
How commonly are other animals, their tracks or even kills, mistaken for being a 'big cat' ?
Where in the country are these animals most commonly seen ?
Do sightings increase or decrease depending on the time of the year ?
What time of day or night are you most likely to see one ?
How many 'big cats' roam Kent ?
What effect, if any, could an increasing 'big cat' population have on indigenous wildlife ?
In the future, with the breeding populations of 'big cats' competing with other species for our shrinking habitats, could we see 'urban' big cats similar to our own urban foxes ?
Why has the government been reticent about thoroughly investigating these sightings further ?
Are these 'big cats' a risk to the public ?
Should the 'big cat' population be protected from human interference ?
What action should a member of the general public take of they see a big cat or find evidence of the presence of one in their local area ?
How does KENT BIG CAT RESEARCH view the media's portrayal of 'big cats' ?

*)Large cats in the wild have a lifespan of up to 18 years, which is why the populations of cats released in the '70s cannot explain some of today's offspring. There would no doubt have been areas in the '70s where cats would not have been released and so a lonely female puma for example, would have simply died without breeding. The gradual influx of cats over several centuries, has enabled generations to overlap, hence today's healthy population.
*)Large exotic cats, the puma, leopard and smaller lynx are pretty much solitary hunters, and will only become a pair as to mate. Young of black leopards have been observed together, and also young with a mother but they will go their own way after around two years.
*)Evidence for 'big cats' in the wilds is overwhelming but sceptics will not be happy until a dead animal turns up, which is does happen on rare occasions. These cats are extremely elusive and will not be turning up dead on woodland pathways, in the same way that foxes and badgers don't. The carcass of a dead animal is soon scavenged, and so, so far the main evidence for these cats is the video footage, the thousands of eye-witness sightings, paw-print casts, kills and spoor.
*)Across Kent, each year KENT BIG CAT RESEARCH receives, on average, around 250 sightings, as well as from Sussex a further 100 and also London and the outskirts. This may seem a lot of reports but this often depends on the amount of appeals sent out via the press. Some months can be extremely quiet regards to witnesses coming forward but a few articles tend to have a snowball effect and many people start to come forward. Christmas 2006 was a record period for reports and then the first four days of January 2007 were even more active.
No 'body' can monitor the whole of the UK regarding sightings of exotic cats and so much of the information for many counties will no doubt be inaccurate.
*)Sceptics often argue that a majority of 'big cat' sightings can be explained as misidentification, and this is complete rubbish. We've always been of the opinion that shaky footage or debatable evidence shouldn't be aired anyway, as it only gives the whole situation and the researchers within it a bad name. Several grainy films of so-called large cats have emerged over the years, but so have many clear examples proving that such animals are in our midst. However, the only way a fox or dog can really be mistaken for a 'big cat' is if the footage taken is very blurry or distant, apart from that, anyone who argues that a domestic cat resembles a 'big cat' really needs to have their eyes examined.
*)There are no specific areas where sightings of 'big cats' are more active. Again, much of the statistics is down to the media. Areas in the UK such as Exmoor, Bodmin Moor, parts of Wales, Surrey etc, seem to appear as hot-spots but this is not the case, these are simply areas over time the press have latched on to and major tabloids have featured as being 'big cat' habitat. A majority of the county's across Britain have cases of exotic cat sightings, such reports tend to go quiet simply due to either lack of press coverage of researchers being unable to monitor their areas. Some experts believe that locations such as the Scottish Highlands are prime areas simply because of the range and cover, but this doesn't mean that there are more cats in that particular area.
*)Sightings do not increase or decrease depending on the time of year. Whilst the Summer may bring the prey out into the open, foliage grows dense and there is more cover for a large cat. However, daylight sightings are extremely common and these animals are never too shy to sun themselves in open fields or lay in the cool shade of a tree. During the Winter the prey becomes more scarce, and you would tend to think that such secret prowlers would then take to the more remote deeper woods in search of food, but this isn't the case. These cats will prowl into back gardens, supermarket car-parks and just about anywhere their territory takes them.
*)Exotic cats are mainly nocturnal but, as stated in the previous answer, day time sightings are common. A lot of sightings occur at dusk, during the Summer, from 8 to 10 pm is ideal time, but Winter, with darkness creeping in around 4 pm, means that these cats can be on the move reasonably early. Many sightings also occur at the crack of dawn, but in our opinion, a cat can be seen at any time.
*)It's difficult to say exactly how many exotic cats roam Kent. Smaller cats such as lynx and jungle cat are indeed out there but extremely difficult to track. A leopard can cross several major towns within its territory but if the appeals and research is methodical, one can determine as to whether there is just one or two cats by the closeness of sightings. Although a leopard can travel up to twenty miles in a night, constant appeals through the press usually bring forward many witnesses who tend to see several cats around the same time but in completely different towns. Sevenoaks, Ashford, Roney Marsh, Medway, Maidstone, Tonbridge, Canterbury can all feature in sightings received over the course of a few days, yet whilst a leopard in Ashford could also be the same cat seen around Canterbury, two sightings the same night makes it unlikely, whilst a sighting in Gravesend is extremely unlikely to be the same individual as seen in Medway. It's a fair distance to travel in the night, there is also a very strong river, strong even for a cat, and these kind of questions are generally cleared up a day or so later when another Gravesend report comes in. However, there are clearly several cats in each of these towns. Although eye-witnesses can at times be mistaken or unsure regarding size of cats, especially when viewed in the distance, there are many sightings, in certain towns, of large and small cats, certainly suggesting slinky females and also young.
When monitoring cats it is also difficult to pick out certain distinguishing features, i.e. a damaged tail, or certain mark on the coat, and witnesses very rarely remember such details as sightings are often brief.
A majority of areas of the UK are inhabited by more cats than is realised, this is because sightings so at times suddenly cease, and then suddenly pick up, and all of this is simply down to the pure luck of the eye-witness sighting
*)With literally millions of rabbits hopping around the countryside, and pheasants and pigeons plodding through the woods, these exotic cats have restaurant at their disposal without even having to consider other prey, which of course they do, whether deer, foxes, squirrels etc. There appears to be no immediate threat to our native wildlife although farmers, ramblers etc, often note at the lack of certain animals and birds at times in areas where 'big cats' have been sighted.
*)Whilst foxes stroll into towns and live in our back yards, this in turn will bring large cats into urban areas, but this has always been the case. Whilst alot of county's are heavily wooded, a cat with a vast expanse of a territory will still pad through village lanes, car-parks, school fields etc, and this kind of environment is certainly something they are used to. The main concern here for many families is that these large felids will then start attacking children but there's no evidence to say that this will occur. Unfortunately, due to the lack of understanding of these animals and also the obstinacy of a governing body, all the while these animals are considered myth, they are put to the back of the mind, until something serious does occur.
*)There are certain authorities such as DEFRA monitoring the 'big cat' situation, whilst the police and groups such as the RSPCA do receive reports of animals, but little is done. marksmen are occasionally sent to the hills of Wales if a farmer has sheep or a dog attacked, but there's no real urgency from these authorities to fully investigate these populations of cats, and this is slightly worrying. Rumours often circulate of felids being killed on the roads and the evidence cleaned up by mysterious people in white coats, but such covert operations, if they do occur, seem pointless when we consider we are only dealing with out of place animals and not monsters. Sightings of cats have been discussed in Parliament but there was indeed the occasional smirk and light-hearted banter about the whole affair. At some point the government will take note of the situation, but only after something negative takes place.
*)There appears to be no risk to the public from these animals but we must not forget that despite being British felids they are still wild animals. Only a small number of these cats may be partly tame, and those are the cats recently released, apart from that, we are dealing with generations of animal born into the UK wilds. Attacks on humans have been reported in the press but these usually occur for the following reasons:
a) an idiot approaches a cat when it has a meal.
b) an idiot provokes or corners a cat in somewhere like an old barn or garden.
c) an idiot shoots at a cat, making it aggressive, or shoots it and wounds the animal, hindering its ability to hunt.
d) a cat, whilst sleeping is suddenly disturbed and reacts aggressively.
*)There isn' the time, the space or the money for these cats to be protected as a species. there are trigger-happy lunatics out there in the woods eager to bag some big game for their own bloodthirst, and all the while these cats are considered myth, they'll continue to attract hunters. The UK would not be able to provide national parks for these animals, and any cats that would be captured would be housed in zoo parks. These animals are better off where they are but it's a sticky predicament we are in, and no-one will be willing to fully investigate the matter.
*)Members of the public who see a 'big cat' are always urged to contact a local researcher, if they can be trusted. Some researchers are out there for personal gain, frustrated by the fact that they haven't seen a 'big cat', when they shouldn't be perceiving their research in such a way. It is a privilege to see an exotic felid in the wilds of the UK, especially when a lot of time and patience has been put into it, but at the end of the day, it's not about the researchers and what they hope to achieve, it's about the welfare of these beautiful animals.
Sightings are often reported to the police, which seems pointless because although they may log sightings, they aren't able to investigate due to lack of knowledge. The same can be said for other groups.
Should a member of the public be confronted by a 'big cat' it is always advised NEVER to turn your back and NEVER to run, instead, stand your ground, keeping eye contact with the animal, and slowly back away.
*)The media always have and always will print the same regurgitated headlines regarding sightings of exotic cats. "The beast strikes again!", "Monster cats are on the loose", it's the same old thing, but the press can be useful in bringing forward witnesses, even if the stories are often inaccurate. The press, and the public love a mystery and so this kind of love affair with the 'big cats' will always exist, but the last thing we need is a natural animal thrown in the same cauldron as the Loch Ness Monster!