Sunday 25 March 2007


(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.

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