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!

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