Sunday 1 April 2007

The 'beast' of Bexley, Surrey 'puma' and others.

‘London Zoo rescues a roaming European Lynx from a Golders Green Garden. On Friday 4 May 2001, London Zoo received a call from the Barnet Borough Police based at Colindale Police Station, North London, requesting assistance with a big cat sighting in the Golders Green area.
A member of the public had seen an animal sitting on the wall of her back garden, which she initially thought was a leopard, as it had a spotted coat. London Zoo’s Head Keeper of Big Cats, Ray Charter, and a colleague, Terry Marsh, were driven with a police escort to a residential area in Golders Green, where the cat had allegedly been seen in the large garden.
“We get numerous calls at London Zoo reporting big cat sightings and so far all of them have proved incorrect – it usually turns out to be a large domestic cat”, commented Ray Charter. “…so you can imagine my surprise when I bent down to look under the hedge expecting to see a large ginger Tom, only to be met by a much more exotic face!”.
After several attempts to catch the cat with a hand net in the large open area, it was finally contained in a smaller area under some steps of a nearby flat. Having assessed the situation, Ray decided to call London Zoo’s Senior Veterinary Officer, Tony Sainsbury, who sedated the animal with a blowpipe. Once sedated, the animal was given a veterinary examination and was found to be a female European lynx of approximately 18 months.
“The lynx was underweight, but in a fair condition”, says Tony Sainsbury.
“She is currently recovering in our hospital and we will do a full veterinary examination in the next couple of days. She seems to have a problem with her left hind leg which we will examine under anaesthetic.”
The origin of the animal is still unknown.
“It is difficult to speculate where the animal came from”, said Nick Lindsay, Senior Curator for London Zoo and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park. “In order to own an exotic cat species you are required to have a Dangerous Wild Animal License from your local authority.”
There was some concern from local residents regarding the danger that was posed by this animal.
“If left alone it is unlikely that the animal would have harmed a person”, continues Nick Lindsay. “However, if it felt threatened or cornered it could give a nasty scratch or bite. It was more likely to be frightened than dangerous.”
DI Paul Anstee from the Barnet Borough Police says, “The Police are extremely grateful that they had the back up of London Zoo’s expertise in dealing with this unusual event.” The animal will remain in the care of London Zoo while she recuperates and her future is decided.’

This Is Local London - September 2001

‘Four months after being captured in a suburban back garden, the ‘Beast of Barnet’ is alive and well at London Zoo.
A wild cat dubbed the ‘Beast of Barnet’, found in a Childs Hill garden back in May, has recovered well according to London Zoo.
Times Group readers may recall how Potters Bar and South Mimms residents were forced to lock themselves in their own homes in September 1998 as police combed the area looking for a large catlike animal which had been sighted there earlier. There were also sightings of another ‘Beast of Barnet’ in the Bookman’s Park area.
However, the captive lynx seems to be enjoying her new home, the big cat enclosure at London Zoo having recovered fully from her ordeal.
Head keeper of London Zoo’s big cat section, Ray Charter, said: “We’ve called her Lara and she’s the only lynx in the big cat enclosure here so we will not be breeding her. She’s in good condition now.”
RSPCA inspector Dermot Murphy added: “We haven’t been able to find out who owned the lynx but believe it was privately owned. Unfortunately, there’s been an increase in people owning exotic animals and we would warn anyone hoping to do this to think carefully as they are not ideal pets in the home.”
The inspector said it is an offence to hold an animal of this kind without license under the Government enforced Dangerous Wild Animals Act.’

Despite the initial excitement of the Barnet lynx, many researchers concluded, and rapidly, that this particular animal had only been roaming free for a few days, and clearly wasn’t an elusive ‘big cat’ caught by methodical research or even chance. Lara, had simply been sitting on a garden wall waiting to be fed, and only took off after two attempts to dart her and one sharp jab to her rear end. Some experts, including Mike Thomas of Newquay Zoo, believed that the lynx had been injured by a vehicle, which had damaged the poor animals leg. It is very likely that the emaciated cat had only been feeding off scraps for a few days to get by. In an excellent little article written by Paul Crowther, entitled ‘Lara The Lynx Of London Town’, which appeared in the Newsfile Xtra section of Animals & Men magazine, Issue 24, he asked, “Why did it take so long for anyone to report seeing it ?”, and added, “The idea that a lynx could roam around London for approximately five days without anyone noticing it does beggar belief. If a lynx can roam around London without detection by the numerous people who live and work there, who is to deny that a similar exotic cat cannot survive and go unnoticed on Bodmin Moor for years!”

The 16th Century author Ralph Holinshead wrote, ‘Lions we had very many in the north parts of Scotland and those with manes of no less force than those of Mauretania; but how and when they were destroyed I do not yet read’. However, the most quoted reference to an early lynx sighting in Britain, and from the outskirts of London, came from the pen of William Cobbet, who was once described by English writer Sir John Verney as, “…farmer, writer, political commentator…”, in his Rural Rides published in 1830. It is said that as a boy he observed a grey cat as big as a middle-sized spaniel dog whilst visiting Waverley Abbey in Surrey on the 27th October 1825. One-hundred and thirteen years later, on 19th March 1938, also in Surrey, this time at Lightwater, an Irene Roberts wrote a letter to The Field magazine, to speak of the strange cries she was hearing outside her bedroom window of a night. Some of the cries, which she heard during the early hours of one July day, in 1937, were described as, “…of peculiar intensity, expressing, it seemed, mortal fear and physical pain”. However, Irene seemed quite knowledgeable of the sounds made by foxes or a rabbit being killed, but attributed these cries as from an unknown animal. Little did Irene realise that a quarter of a century later, these cries would manifest time and time again across the fields of Surrey, and many witnesses would come forward to report what was to become known as the Surrey Puma, the first ‘big cat’ headline.Much has been written about the puma-like creatures that haunted the commons, gardens and dark hours of the 1960s. In fact, these creatures still exist today, some very likely to have been offspring of animals that once prowled the hedgerows of Shooters Hill and other locations. Here, in brief is a summary of the flaps.

One of the first ever recorded reports of the Surrey puma came from 1955 when a female witness, walking her dog near Abinger Hammer, in Surrey, discovered the grisly, half-eaten remains of a calf. She claimed, that after finding the gory mess, she was shocked to see a puma-like animal slinking out of sight. Four years after the sighting, during ’59, a Mr Burningham, driving near Preston Candover in Hampshire, saw a large cat cross the road in front of his vehicle. He described the animal as being yellowish in colour, and the size of a Labrador dog, but with a cats head. It’s coat looked quite rough and its tail was long. Thankfully, the witness wasn’t too dumbstruck to slow his vehicle and watch the animal for a short while as it observed sheep in the adjacent field to the hedgerow it was sitting in.
That same year a taxi-driver described seeing a ‘lion’, which leapt over a hedge in the vicinity of Tweezledown Racecourse, but things really began hotting up during the early ‘60s, when a huge flood of sightings bombarded the local newspapers, literally forcing the news crews and media hounds to wake up and take notice that some ‘thing’ was indeed out there stalking the fields. However, although 1963 is seen as the defining year in which the Surrey felid made its name, there were still handfuls of previous reports lurking around as anecdotal evidence.
A now defunct Surrey related website page reported, on the ‘Scare Bears & Other Creatures’ around Surrey, and mentioned an intriguing report from 1961:
‘In 1961 golfers spotted a ‘big black animal’ (the first ever Surrey black leopard sighting I wonder ?) in the autumn mist on Croham Hurst Gold Course. One man bravely moved closer to get a better view. He judged it to be a bear about three-feet tall. It disappeared into the woods as the friends peered at it across the field. The golf club feared the animal might scare women and children, so police were called out, but a search revealed no trace of the mystery animal. Officers suggested it could have been a large dog, while Saint Bernard’s or dog badgers were put forward as solutions by some locals.’
Even more interestingly, the website went on to mention a ‘big cat’ escaping in Surrey, very early evidence that cats were present in the county, whether roaming free or circus bound.
‘In the 1920s ‘Carmo Manor’ in Shirley acted as the winter quarters of Carmo’s Circus. The Great Carmo’s menagerie was housed there, and the circus men would often wash the elephants in the old estate pond or take bears for exercise round the grounds. So when a woman rang the police station to report an escaped Leopard the duty sergeant was on the point of organising a full-scale, armed leopard hunt. The creature had been seen to force its way through a hedge and then jump over a fence. Stopping a moment to check the facts, he rang Carmo’s and found they had no leopards! This time, the twilight at dusk was accused of turning a Dalmatian into a vision of a leopard. The circus dog had apparently slipped out during training for a new act.’

A Mr Ernest Jellett, who worked for the Mid-Wessex Water Board, was cycling near Heathy Park Reservoir at around 7:45 am on the day of 16th July 1962 when he saw a big cat with a flat face and big paws stalking a rabbit. Although at the time Mr Jellett described the creature he saw as something akin to a ‘young lion cub’, it seems clear that what he did in fact see was a small puma. In the December of ’62 another water board employee saw the cat, and there were numerous other reports of a rabbit-coloured cat prowling the woods. Reports snowballed into late Winter, through to1963, when a mysterious predator paid various visits to Bushylease Farm, between Crondall and Ewshot. Something silent had been spooking the farm dogs, and fleeting sightings of the slinking intruder often described it as tan-coloured. A huge hunt ensued for the creature during the Summer of ’63 after a David Back spotted an animal laying by the roadside at 1:00 am on the 18th July, at Shooter’s Hill. One-hundred and twenty-six policemen, accompanied by more than twenty dogs, alongside ambulance staff, and officials from the RSPCA, scoured more than eight-hundred acres of land in the hunt for a cat they believed was a cheetah, despite no actual reports from the time describing such a thing! A complete waste of time and man-power, as usual, combed the vicinity of various sightings, but to no avail. And such a ridiculous attempt to flush out a cat was, unfortunately to be repeated time and time again, up to the present day, with the same results, which often leads many to believe that surely, these animals cannot exist if they are so clever to evade hundreds of trackers. Albeit cumbersome and noisy ones at that!
Many of the sightings which emerged from 1964 were chronicled in Di Francis’ superb book, Cat Country, and some read as follows:
27th September 1964 – 10:45 pm – a puma-like cat was sighted by a motorist at Loxwood. The next day on 28th September 1964 – 6:15 pm – a female witness observed a puma at Witley. Then, on 29th September 1964 – 6:45 am – a road worker in the Puttenham vicinity came face to face with a large cat. There were also a couple of reports of a puma on October 3rd, and then, throughout October consistent eye-witness descriptions from Hascombe, Hindhead and Elstead, all reports describing a puma-like animal. The following year Di Francis catalogued another consistent batch of reports, with one at Chiddingford where a female witness, tending to her horses, described how a ‘big cat’ had leapt over her head. During 1966 several motorists filed reports of large cat-like animals, especially in the Puttenham area. Many of these reports came from the summertime and into autumn. At Ash Green on the morning of July 14th, a witness saw a big cat run into fields, and the same day, only three hours apart at Worplesdon, a witness observed a Puma from just thirty yards away as it padded its way into the garden of the householder. A puma was reported again during mid-August, this time at Cutt Mill. This time the police were spoken to regarding the sighting. At Wormley, a few days after, another householder observed a large cat in the garden, but at Milford on 4th September 1966, a male witness was dumbstruck when a large cat sprang from a tree and sped off. During the September of 1966 many witnesses claimed to have found the paw-prints of big cats. These echoed similar evidence found in 1964 when, on September 7th, a P.C. Bill Cooper was called out to investigate a strange set of impressions trailing across a field at Stileman’s Racing Stables. The prints seemed to measure five inches across, and suggested that a heavy animal had made them. Unfortunately, after following the prints for half a mile, they disappeared into undergrowth. However, photographs were taken of the prints and examined by experts at London Zoo who confirmed they had indeed been made by a large cat such as a puma. Unfortunately, a sceptical Dr. Maurice Burton suggested that the prints were made by a dog. What we must remember when looking at prints, as mentioned elsewhere, is that the dog does not retract its claws but a large cat will. Claws may be thrown out to grip, but a majority of cat prints can be confirmed by the lack of claw marks. A puma was seen at Stringers Common on the evening of the 22nd September ’66 by a woman out walking. There had been two other sightings earlier in the morning at Hog’s Back. One of these concerned a motorist who had an impressive sighting of a brown cat which was caught in the headlights as it slinked across the road.
The same animal was seen at Hog’s Back in October of ’66, again, a motorist had caught the animal as it crossed the road, and before the year was out there’d been another handful of reports and the rest of the decade was no different, with sightings coming from Wood Street and Thursley.

There were claims during the very late 1960s that a puma was shot and killed in the Surrey area, as well as Sussex and Hampshire. However, there is no proof of this, but if such an incident did occur then it is very likely that at the time the carcass would have been buried or burned.
Reports continued into 1968. Farnborough was an extremely active area. However, sometime during 1970 a rather vague critter was said to have been prowling Hackney Marshes, in East London although little appears to have been recorded regarding a creature that was described as being bear-like! Rather quirkily, English comedian Jasper Carrott and actor Robert Powell, were to bring this obscure legend to the public eye and out of the depths of obscurity for an episode of their series, ‘The Detectives’ in 1997! A paranormal-related website claimed that the animal, which apparently left prints in the snow on one occasion, was active into the early 1980s as well.
Graham McKewan’s important book pertaining to strange creatures, entitled, Mystery Animals Of Britain And Ireland catalogues many eye-witness sightings touching the borders. One woman, a Mrs Anne Stanette, described her encounter a decade later, in a letter, which happened in East Surrey:“While I was out riding in Granger’s Woods, Woldingham, in May 1978, I saw what I believe was a lion rush across the road in front of me. It ran from the Oxted side into thick bushes on the opposite side. It was about ten or twelve yards from me. It was a beige/light brown colour and had a small head in comparison with the rest of its body. (It had no shaggy mane).”

Strangely also, during the 1970s, a naturalist named Maurice Burton concluded that all the reports of alleged large cats, which he’d investigated, turned out to be fox, badger, deer, dog, otter and feral cats. Maybe it was this kind of poor research that turned the 1980s into such a non-event for the Surrey ‘big cat’, although this lack of activity could also be blamed on another mystery felid, the ‘beast’ of Exmoor, which literally exploded into the ‘80s, and became the most popular, headline making ‘big cat’ in the business. However, reports still existed. In 1984 at Peaslake, hair samples, believed to have belonged to a puma were analysed, and commented on as proof that a large cat was around Surrey. Hertfordshire, Sussex and Kent were also providing several flaps of their own, proof that the animals roaming Surrey were indeed not responsible for the eye-witness reports in the neighbouring counties. During 1987 there were also rumours that a large cat, possibly a puma, was shot and killed near Greenwich Observatory, London.

During the Autumn of 1998 a sandy-coloured cat with a ring on the tip of its tail was sighted at South Mimms, Hertfordshire and there were several sightings near Potters Bar, after which commenced another fruitless police search. This animal became the ‘beast’ of Barnet.

During 1993 a Mr Irvine saw a large cat at Hayes Common in Bromley, one of several reports from the outskirts of London that never reached the press.Mr Irvine was driving to work one morning at around 6:45 am when a charcoal-grey cat, with rosettes bleeding through the coat, bounded across the road ahead just fourteen-feet away. The animal had a smallish head, a very long tail and small ears. Meanwhile, across the Thames – ‘Four More Sightings Of The Beast Of Ongar’, reported the This Is Local London website on Saturday 8th August 1998, claiming, “…witnesses have told police the animal, seen three times in fields at Matchling Green, looked like a young panther. The most recent sighting was off Stanford Rivers Road, Ongar, last Wednesday.”
Essex was certainly already on the map regarding sightings of large cats, but with years of reports coming from Exmoor and Bodmin from the West Country, and also Surrey, many other nationwide reports became either obscured, or simply forgotten.
The previous year in Essex there’d been sightings of a ‘big cat’ around Wood End, but like so many others, the press merely obliterated any truth by stating the strangest ‘facts’. One classic report as follows: “Commenting on the Matchling Green sightings, PC Chris Caten said: ‘they said its tail was pantherish but it was not as big as they expected a panther to be’.” If this wasn’t confusing enough, a local website reported, “…confirmation that a ‘big cat’ is stalking the area came in February after an expert examined a goose, one of four savaged in attacks in Weald Bridge Road, North Weald. Claw marks on its body proved it was killed by a lynx or puma-sized animal.” So, we can see by these few sentences just how confusing these cat stories are painted to the public. We have a local policeman claiming that witnesses described to him a ‘pantherish’ tail, whatever that is, and that the animal was, “…not as big as they expected a panther to be”, even though the report clearly states that the witnesses saw an animal resembling a young panther. We also have the confusion of the claw-marks on the body of the savaged geese which an expert claimed were made by a lynx, or a puma-sized animal! Well, which is it to be ?
During September 1998 the cat of West Essex became the ‘beast’ of Bassett, and according to some websites, was identified as a Eurasian Lynx, and even investigated on the BBC series The X-Creatures, presented by zoologist Chris Packham. He commented, “About five-thousand years ago they (the Lynx) would have been very common in Essex…”, although the animal stalking the woods during 1998 was, in his words, “…an escapee from a zoo or private collector.”
A PC Ross Luke claimed that sightings around Ongar had dated back to the mid-‘80s, although there seemed to be some confusion between the sightings, as many reports seemed to describe a large black animal. Whatever the case, Mr Luke claimed that, “We have a contingency plan; if the cat is ever cornered we would call up the Tactical Firearms Unit and it would be shot…dead.”
During January 2001 a black leopard was sighted at Walthamstow, near marshland. The sleek felid was observed going through bins at 7:45pm one evening by a woman sitting in her car waiting to pick up her son. Despite the fact that the animal came close to the vehicle, the witness described it only as fox-sized, but having a long tail, although in a statement to the press she claimed it was a ‘huge animal’. The animal eventually slinked away toward Wickham Close.On the 31st of January a report was filed concerning a Christmas sighting of the Ongar cat. A Paul Ayton described how he was driving along Greenstead Road when he saw a large black animal which at first he took to be a dog. The creature was walking alongside a hedgerow a few hundred metres away but then headed towards the road. As the animal came closer, via a field, Paul noticed its feline gait. Eventually the witness slowed the car until just twenty yards away from the cat before it slipped away out of sight alongside a house.

‘Cat Brutally Murdered’ – 5th September 1998.This Is Local London.

‘A dead cat, with its head cut off, is the latest gruesome find in a series of bizarre attacks on animals across London. The cat was found with its head missing and most of its blood drained, in Main Road, Sidcup, last Thursday. It was removed by Bexley Council environmental health officers.
Several months ago another cat was found in a front garden of a house in Penshurst Avenue, Sidcup. Its head and tail had been removed.
There was also a similar incident in Erith.
A total of forty suspicious deaths among pets have taken place in the last ten months and the most common victims are domestic cats.
RSPCA inspector Nigel Shelton said: “The number of cases of animals which have been decapitated or had limbs removed from their bodies is growing at an alarming rate and we would urge anybody with any information to contact us urgently.
An RSPCA spokesman said they had no idea of the motive behind the killings and said the widespread locations of the deaths made it likely that more than one person was involved.
She said police were now following up the leads given by the public through the RSPCA’s
emergency hotline.
She added: “At the moment, we have no hard facts about the person or people behind these attacks.”

With the grisly, but seemingly unrelated cat-rippings making the local headlines, it was the turn of the Barnet ‘beast’ to rear its ugly head again, this time on September 25th 1998, when two policemen, Martin Stainton and Matthew Durkin, observed a cat which the press claimed was, ‘…either a puma, cougar or mountain lion’, despite the fact that all three of these names belong to the same species of animal! And, in typical police fashion, a helicopter and twelve more policemen arrived on the scene to frighten off the animal.
There were between five and ten sightings of the Barnet prowler during the autumn months, and local inspectors claimed that the animal must have come from a private collection or been released on purpose, despite the nationwide sightings of similar animals.
By the 10th October 1998 the elusive yet harmless cat of Barnet had become known as the ‘M25 Monster’, and a report in the London press dated 31st October…yes, Halloween, described a ‘Woman’s Trauma Over Gruesome Cat Murder’:
‘A traumatised sixty-eight year old woman has warned pet owners to be extra vigilant after neighbours found her cat dumped in a garden with its head severed.
Devastated pensioner Pamela Stockham of Caxton Road, Wimbledon, had been struggling to come to terms with the gruesome killing which happened sometime between October 15th and the 21st.
Mrs Stockham first became worried when George – her pet of seven years – did not return to her house for twenty-four hours. The following day she targeted nearby roads with a leaflet campaign and put up posters in a bid to find her beloved cat.
Just days later a neighbour in Garfield Road broke the news that George’s body had been dumped in her garden. His head has not yet been found.
Mrs Stockham told the Guardian: “I am still in absolute shock – I just can’t believe it has happened. Who would do such a terrible thing ?”
“We know it’s George’s body because the description matches. He was black with white feet, tummy and neck and had white whiskers. I want to warn everybody who owns cats to be on their guard. The people who do these terrible things should be prosecuted – but right now I just want to kill them.”
At the end of November This Is Local London claimed in an article that the strange cat killings had spread south, with ten rabbits also suffering the same fate as the many cats. Reports of dead cats circulated around Tottenham, Stepney and New Barnet when a dead cat was discovered on November 11th. Things then became even more serious when at the beginning of the December a psychiatrist was called in to draw up a profile of the London cat-ripper after claims that some forty animals had been slaughtered. A one-thousand pound reward was put up for the capture of the sadist but by December 19th 1998 someone, or some ‘thing’ had struck again, this time in Twickenham, when an Eileen Tattershall lost her cat Bonkers. A neighbour found the dead cat, bereft of head and tail but what was more sickening was how the RSPCA, during the April of 1999, attempted to solve the gory mystery. They claimed, after months of methodical and
exhaustive research into the killings, that all of these deaths could be attributed to one killer – the car! An inspector told local press that post-mortems on the decapitated victims had proven that these poor animals had been killed on the road. Whilst other deaths could be attributed to scavengers such as foxes, dogs and even crows!
How the RSPCA came to such a conclusion is beyond us. Unless there are serial killing foxes, killer crows and knife-wielding dogs out there, we really couldn’t for the life of us see how the victims could have their heads and tails removed, and the carcasses to be bereft of blood. And how a car manages this is also beyond us, and of course, what kind of car decapitates a domestic cat and then returns it to its home garden ? The Met’s wildlife liaison officer, Andy Fisher also managed to come up with this classic statement: “There has always
been cats and there has always been traffic. What we don’t know is why there has been a sudden increase in reports.” And what about the rabbits ? In the summer of ’99 reporter Rob Bailey of the Dartford Messenger filed a sighting of a large cat in Orpington, at a area known as Badger’s Mount. There had also been reports of large brown, as well as black cats around Swanley, Darenth, up into Dartford and across in Sidcup where some of the domestic cat killings had taken place. All this was starting to take on a sinister yet familiar form ? Was there really a twisted human being out there severing the heads of domestic cats, or were these decapitations the work of a feline form ? Or both ? Also, during this time, populations of cats across Kent, the outskirts of London, Sussex, Essex and Surrey were on the rise. A handful of large cats would soon become known as the Bluewater ‘big cats’, or as one newspaper dubbed them, the ‘beasts’ of Bean, whilst these territories would also cover Gravesend, in Kent, Sevenoaks, and further down in Tonbridge. It was difficult all of a sudden to monitor individual animals, there was an explosion to look at, a snowball effect that had been clouded by the media and their ability to confine certain cats to certain areas, when the fact of the matter was, there was an abundant population of varying species across the south.

On the 17th August 2001 the cat beheadings hit the headlines again. For more than a year things had gone a little quiet despite the fact that large cats were still being sighted at a record rate across the country, and many of these sightings had taken place in areas where domestic cats had previously been killed.
The head of a nineteen-year old white cat was found in a back garden in Penge. Shortly after this incident the half-eaten remains of a muntjac deer were found in the car park of the South Bucks Star offices, at High Wycombe. Was this a grisly prank ? Well, judging by the state of the unfortunate victim, some large predator had feasted upon it over night and left the grisly yet clean remains behind.
A Trevor Smith examined the carcass and told the press that, “This is not the work of foxes. The animal’s rib cage has been chewed off. It is very possible that this is the work of a big cat.”
According to Thames Valley Police a Puma had been sighted at Wycombe Heights Golf Course just a fortnight previous.
On the 14th October 2001 The Sunday Mirror briefly covered a ‘Puma On The Loose’ on the Hampshire-Surrey border. According to the report locals were blaming the disappearances of domestic cats on a large cat, thought to be a puma.

“Earlier this year (2002) whilst travelling on the M26 towards Surrey, about halfway along it, I was forced to slow down by slow moving traffic. I travel along this road every day to get to Surrey where I work. The position of the slow moving traffic was unusual as it starts to build up towards Junction 5, not at this particular spot.
I slowly moved along until the traffic came to the cause of the delay.
An animal had been hit and pieces of it were all over the road (all three lanes). I am used to seeing the bodies of dead animals on the roads of Kent. However, this was different. The animal seemed to have black fur. I immediately started thinking as to what it was. It was not a sheep or a fox. Not many things bother me like this did. It was a huge animal that had been hit, but I only caught a few seconds of the sight as I was forced to drive off.
Do you know any information about this incident ? I came to my own conclusion that it was a black cat.

Large tracks of a cat were found at the Wycombe Heights Golf Course in 2002, allegedly made by the animal known as the ‘Bucks Beast’. More mutilated muntjac deer were discovered in local forests and the press had a field day
‘Is That Tiger Of Yours Licensed ?’ – wrote the Gravesend Messenger on January 31st 2002.
‘People who keep wild animals at home could face prosecution if they do not have license for them.
The RSPCA is drafting new proposals calling for greater protection for captive wild animals.
The current law protects some, but not all potentially dangerous animals such as large constrictor snakes. Most owners do not apply for licenses, and escape annual inspections.
Two years ago a poll found only thirty-four licenses in force in the south-east – far below the suspected actual number. Owners not aware of how to deal with and care for wild animals, could find them causing serious injury.’
Several reports of a large cat emerged from the Epping area, where geese were said to have been killed by a silent predator. Zoologist and friend Quentin Rose, at the time, examined a paw print found not far from Epping but concluded it was made by a dog. The print simply looked large because it had been smudged in the mud.
On the night of July 20th 2002, and also August 1st, Bexley resident Stuart Campbell, had heard a strange scratching at his back door which awoke him. The man, who was a little concerned about the noises, and the safety of his three children, decided to contact the police and the RSPCA but his call was never taken serious. However, when he spotted a massive black cat in the Northumberland Heath area, his brother-in-law certainly took matters seriously because he’d seen it to. He described the animal has having shining eyes as he watched it from his bedroom window. The black intruder slinked around the garden in the darkness leaving the witnesses terrified.
Readers of the News Shopper in the Bexley area bombarded the news desk to report their own encounters with large, wild cats, with a majority describing a black animal, in contrast to the puma which was often reported in and around Surrey a few decades previous.
A Bernice Fogherty saw an animal leap over a fence the previous year, at her home in Avenue Road, and there were also sightings in Erith and Eltham, as well as Welling and Belvedere.
A big, black cat was seen at Plumstead Common one month after Mr Campbell’s sighting. A Dave Loson watched the animal from the window of his flat as it prowled along Upton Road. He watched it for five minutes.
On the 20th September 2002 the press asked, ‘Is There A Richmond Beast ?’ after a large paw print was found in a garden at East Sheen by a Beverley Cooper, who contacted the Twickenham Times. Unfortunately, the print faded away before it could be verified. But, on the 25th it was alleged that the Plumstead ‘panther’ had been caught on film by a Steve Gardiner who lives at Upton Road. According to the press this had been the sixth reported sighting in Woolwich and Bexley in just four weeks.
Mr Gardiner caught the cat on film as it strolled alongside his house. It was around 7:25 am when the witness watched the animal and was also aware that his security system had picked up the animal. Although the man described the animal as being around three-feet long the image on the CCTV is nothing more than a hazy blob.
On the 8th February 2003 a black cat, the size of a Labrador dog was sighted at Belvedere. A man contacted KBCR to say he’d watched the animal from just seventy-metres away, cross the road and head towards marshland at around 12:45 am. A few weeks later prints which were claimed to have been made by a puma, were found and cast in the Crayford area. The prints measured over four inches wide, and there were also sightings of a large, black animal at Princes Risborough.
The most unusual of all the reports to come from London and the surrounding areas emerged on 12th July 2003. A Mr Allen, MSc FRAS, was staying at the Tower Thistle Hotel, next to Tower Bridge when he spied a strange cat from his window. The cat, according to Mr Allen, was mooching around the taxi entrance to the hotel from the north end of London Bridge. He described the cat as, “…over large, russet colour and had a brush on the end of its tail. It had very large and erect ears. I assumed it was an urban fox – but it wasn’t – it was feline, far too big, and not canine in its behaviour.”
“What was odd,” he added, “ that someone else thought it odd too. As it cowered in the undergrowth, a passing person noticed it and approached it. The animal ran off – and I saw the last of it as it ran away below past the restaurant window.”

At the beginning of April, and certainly not a Fool’s Day prank, the Bexley ‘big cat’ reared its head again. This time it was sixteen-year old Daniel Brown in Welling who disturbed the creature as he let his own pet cat in through the back door. Daniel boldly shouted at the big, black cat that was squatting at the end of the garden and it leapt out of sight.
A year later residents of Barnehurst, in particular eighteen-year old Daniel Monck, and his sister Tracey, of Cheviot Close, were concerned about the animal. Rather oddly, the News Shopper said that Mr Monck described the animal as something akin to a large dog mixed with a sheep! The witness stated, “It’s too big to be an ordinary cat, it has a huge head and big paws and pointed ears.”
The grandmother of Daniel, eighty-four year old Nell Hawes also saw the animal and feared for her life around the time, and refused to go outside in case the creature was prowling around. Several neighbours reported that a large cat had been seen mooching around the dustbins and feeding off scraps.

On the 20th of April a female witness, first name of Heather, saw a black Leopard from her window. It was around 6:20 pm when something caught her eye rummaging around the undergrowth near the rail track nearby. The animal eventually slinked out of sight. The woman told me, “I couldn’t believe it when I saw the big cat. It wasn’t the first time it had been seen in the area. My sister had seen it when she was visiting me about a year ago.”

A Leatherhead resident claimed to have photographed a large brown cat which the press connected to sightings of the Surrey puma. A Bruce Burgess, aged sixty, was surveying sites for an artificial lake, around Brook Willow Farm, Woodlands Road, when he snapped something in the distance near low branches. However, like so many other photographs of alleged big cats, this one also proved to be too fuzzy to determine what exactly was in the frame.

The spring of 2005 kicked off with one of the most remarkable big cat stories ever to grace the pages of any newspaper. An Anthony Holder claimed, that he was attacked by a big, black cat during the early hours of 22nd March, whilst in his garden at Sydenham, a few miles from Penge. The witness claimed he was looking for his crying kitten at the bottom of his garden, which backs onto a patch of woodland, when the six-foot long predator leapt upon him. He told the press, “All of a sudden I see this big black thing pouncing at me, knocked me flying. I just didn’t know where I was, and the next thing there was this big black figure laying on my chest.”
Mr Holder, a father of three, allegedly suffered cuts and bruises after his encounter and was treated by paramedics. After the incident he ran indoors and phoned the police but when they arrived at the scene there was no sign of the mystery attacker. Tony added, “I could see these huge teeth and the whites of its eyes just inches from my face. It was snarling and growling and I really believe it was trying to do some serious damage. I tried to get it off but I couldn’t move it, it was heavier than me. I was scared. I really thought my life was in danger but all I was worried about was my family. It was an absolute nightmare.
Ashleigh, the fourteen-year old daughter of Mr Holder, claimed she had seen her father being attacked by the animal, and a local painter and decorator, Billy Rich, believed he saw the animal that afternoon and a handful of other witnesses came forward to report possible sightings.
The Daily Mirror reported that the attacker sank its claws into Mr Holders fingers and also swiped at his face, although no marks consistent with that of a Leopard attack seemed evident.
As per usual a degree of hysteria boiled in the local community, with Sydenham Girls School closing, and police warning residents to stay indoors. The Daily Mail of Wednesday 23rd March 2005 claimed that, ‘As Mr Holder was being treated by an ambulance crew in the street, he says he saw the beast again. “It was strolling past the back of the ambulance as if it didn’t have a care in the world.” Said Tony.
Reports from the time seem inconsistent and several statements seem confused and the evidence does not add up to the possibility of an attack by a large cat. Whilst a cat, such as a leopard may feel threatened if cornered, or if possible prey, such as Mr Holders kitten, was being taken away, we do not see any reason to suggest that the witness was in fact attacked. Sightings have come from Sydenham and the surrounding towns, but the injuries Mr Holder sustained are not consistent with marks that would be left by a leopard attack. Such an animal has extremely large and sharp claws which would lacerate deeply even if the swipe was merely to threaten rather than kill. Also, Mr Holder mentioned seeing the, “…whites of the animals eyes.” This is not consistent with the eye colouration of a leopard, which is more green-yellow when reflected in light. Maybe he simply made a rash statement, but the whole affair seems dubious when looking back.

Borehamwood had a minor cat-flap during early April ’05 when several animal remains were found in fields near Berwick Road. The carcass of a swan was found by a six-year old boy and his mother also claimed that various other animals had been discovered, half-eaten, as well as large paw prints. Chickens, ducks and foxes had allegedly been slain in the vicinity sparking rumours that a Leopard or Puma had been prowling around the neighbourhood. At the time sceptics claimed that the swan death may have been down to the power lines in the area, and that the poor bird had struck one of these whilst in flight. However, the other grisly remains discovered in the area seemed to suggest some kind of killing machine was haunting the undergrowth.
Meanwhile, at Eltham around the same time, a devoured fox was found in the back garden of a Laura Downes, who lives at Westmount Road. When she first went into her garden she found a dead fox which she didn’t think was anything unusual but one hour later when she returned, the fox had been stripped clean. The following day another eaten fox turned up, this time covered in maggots, suggesting this carcass was older. The terrified woman called the local Wildlife Officer who stated, “It was horrendous. Whatever did that to the first fox did a good job. I’ve never seen anything like it. I was scared.”
A female witness named Vicky saw a melanistic leopard in Ewell, Surrey on 16th April 2005. She, and her housemate were staring out of their kitchen window when something black caught their eye down the bottom of the garden. The animal had a feline gait and was as big as a medium sized dog. The cat then disappeared into the neighbours garden.
In May, one of the Surrey felids was caught on film at Winkworth Arboretum by a Harry Fowler of Guilford. He shot the footage near Godalming two weeks after there was a report of a similar cat in a tree at Whitmoor Common. The cat on the film was pointed out to Mr Fowler by a female witness who spotted it near the boathouse at Phillmore Lake. The cat in the video is a rusty brown colour and roughly the height of an Alsatian dog. Aurrey Wildlife Trust manager believed the animal in the film was a lynx although it could also be a puma.
Shortly after the video footage was taken of the mystery cat, many Surrey residents called the press to report their sightings, proof then that the Surrey puma and friends were still healthy, even though such animals live only for around fifteen years in the wild. These current cats suggest that twenty to thirty years ago large cats such as the puma were indeed breeding, and there is also the small possibility that some cats are still being let go into the countryside to add to the already growing number.
Winchester’s Marwell Zoo liaison officer Bill Hall commented, “ Personally I believe there maybe a big cat somewhere but not leopards, and definitely not black ones.” A very strange, almost amateurish view from a zoo officer! He continued however that, “…I am quietly confident that a puma could survive.”
He then went on say, “We get calls from people saying a big black animal jumped in front of the lights of their car, what do we think it was, and I say it was probably a Labrador dog.” In our opinion, such a statement is a joke. Most witnesses know when they’ve seen a big black leopard, and I can’t see why there would be an abundant population of stray, yet very uncharacteristically elusive black Labradors roaming the countryside. Mr Hall accepts that the puma could survive in Britain, but not the leopard despite the fact that menageries during the Victorian period and also private collections housed both species of cat in equal measure, during the 1960s and previous, and even up until today.
The ‘beast’ of Bexley was seen again in the May of ’05 by care worker Jim Hornby who works near Bexleyheath Broadway. At around 11:00 pm one night, whilst talking to his supervisor, a something black caught his eye. A cat-like animal was creeping along on its belly near to Jim’s car, as if it was stalking. The cat also seems to have left a calling card, a huge paw print which Mr Hornby discovered in a sandy area in the garden. The print measured five inches across.

On 21st June 2005 the Bexley News Shopper reported another cat sighting, this time at Corraline Walk, Thamesmead. A Belinda Bull was looking out of her living room window at around 9:30 pm, the previous week, when she spotted a large animal around some dustbins. Although she described the animal as having a massive head, big paws and a long tail, no description of colour was given.
A month after the sighting a fifteen-year old from Farnham Road, Welling, saw a large cat whilst on his way home from a friends house. It was around 10:00 pm on July 12th when he heard a rustling sound in the nearby bushes. As he strolled by he glimpsed a black cat in the undergrowth behind a metal fence. The witness called the police who followed up the report.
This Is Local London asked, ‘Is A Panther Loose In Harpenden’ after a sighting of a large cat on October 3rd 2005. A woman walking her dog on Bower Heath Lane reported her sighting of, what the website claimed was a puma, to the police. A security firm in Hertfordshire believed they had caught the animal on CCTV in September although what became of this footage we do not know.
2006 was only eleven days old when the press reported an early January encounter involving dog-walker John Costin spotted a large cat at Churchfield Woods, in Bexley Village. The man was with his dog Mickey, when he observed an animal in long grass not far away. The cat, which he never got a clear look of, seemed to have a tortoise-shell pattern to its coat and measured only around two-feet at the most, from nose to rear. John never got a look at its tail but the animal seemed very wild, and he believed it must have been a lynx or a bobcat, which is slightly stockier than the lynx with a rusted coat. However, the report of the animal didn’t seem to be consistent with any other cat sightings, so the jury is still out on the matter.
One month after the strange cat sighting at Churchfield Woods, a News Shopper reader, a Ms Cashnella, came forward to file a report of an animal which she saw some time during 2004. Her interesting letter read as follows:
‘I too was a non-believer until I saw this cat for myself. Around two-and-a-half years ago I had a mare who was ready for foal and I went to check on her about 11:30 pm.
My horses are kept on Southmere Park, or, as some might know it, Erith Marshes.
There it was, stalking through the reed bed. It was about two-feet in length and about eighteen inches high. I searched the internet to see if I could find out what I had seen and there it was, a jaguarundi.
These cats come from South America and live in habitats ranging from semi-acrid scrubland to swamps.
Its main prey are birds, rodents, rabbits and reptiles. Hence there is no savaging of domestic or wild animals or humans.
These cats can range from black to pale grey-brown or red in colour. They are about thirty-three inches long and weigh around ten to twenty pounds.’ This sighting was extremely intriguing, and certainly could’ve explained some reports of unusual cats around London. In fact, there are many eye witness reports nationwide which often remain inconsistent with the usual leopard, puma and lynx sightings, and this is because there are other, smaller species out there. caracal, ocelot, and jaguarundi reports do exist. Some of these cats may be individuals that have escaped from private collections or zoo parks, and a majority of times they are sighted, witnesses may well not know exactly what they have seen, unless they are quick to act like Ms Cashnella, who identified her marshland stalker via the internet.

On the 15th February This Is Local London claimed that the elusive ‘beast’ of Bexley had finally been photographed. A Debbie Marshall of Crombie Road, Sidcup, snapped an animal whilst she was looking out of her bedroom window the weekend previous. A black animal laying in the grass caught her eye so she reached for her digital camera and took a photo as the animal mooched around the field. Unfortunately, despite a good description of the animal, the photograph is once again dubious, although most certainly shows a black object in the long grass quite a distance away, which Mrs Marshall estimated at around one-hundred feet. The photograph, which appeared in numerous newspapers over the course of a few days, appears to show the head and big shoulders of a black Leopard skulking beyond the trees. This seems promising, although some sceptics argued that the image could be anything from a domestic cat to a black sack. Mrs Marshall claimed that her neighbour’s pet cat was also in the field, yet looked around seven times smaller than the animal she’d photographed. However, despite the excitement of the witnesses, which included Mrs Marshall’s three children, the photo has once again been filed alongside so many other ‘big cat’ pictures labelled under the ‘maybe’ category.
On May 30th 2006 IC South reported on the ‘Man To Keep Leopards In Back Garden’, with an exclusive report by Richard Porritt. The story concerned a Mr Todd Dalton, known locally as the Leopard Man of Peckham, due to his mini leopard sanctuary which he’d constructed in his back garden. However, the man faced much fear and loathing from neighbour’s who believed that his animals were threat to youngsters and so a ban was bestowed upon him, preventing him from keeping such animals. Mr Dalton however paid up to twenty-five thousands pounds to contest the decision and in May his ban was overturned after he dragged Southwark council through the courts.
Reporter Richard Porritt stated: ‘After the hearing at Tower Bridge Magistrates’ Court, Todd told the South London press he was, “…delighted”, but the action had left him broke.
“This appeal has cost me twenty-five thousand pounds and I am not applying for costs because I do not think the taxpayers should have to pay”, said the internet entrepreneur.’
According to the website, Mr Dalton had built large cages in his garden to house the Leopards but councillors refused him permission to keep the animals despite the go-ahead from police and vets and also working in compliance with the Dangerous Wild Animals Act. On the 11th June 2006 a Clara Story, for This Is Local London reported that another domestic cat had been found without its tail, this time in New Maiden, south-west London.

Reports of cats around London continue to the present day, such animals are being dismissed due to the so-called lack of vegetation, yet there is enough cover for such felids within the strips if woodlands, fields and also railway lines which flank the city. Check out the THIS IS LONDON website for further details.

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