Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Silly Season Already…?

It must be, the 'Mail' is in full spate, asking those questions that invariably attract a 'No, don't be so ridiculous' answer. And the local papers are getting in on the act too:
There have been so many big cat sightings in Leicestershire and Rutland – the latest on January 1 – that some experts are convinced there are breeding populations.
‘Experts’? Do you mean vets, biologist, zoo personnel?
For big cat hunter Nigel Spencer, the interest in the big cats that seem to be living and breeding in parts of Leicestershire has become a passion.

Nigel has taken over the reins of Rutland and Leicestershire Pantherwatch, an organisation set up by his father, David.
Ah. Right. No, clearly you mean Internet obsessives.

It seems to be the modern definition of 'expert', which believe me, I'm challenging wherever it appears:

The 49-year-old, from Oakham, said: "Big cats are breeding in the UK, without a shadow of a doubt. "
You’ll have some proof, then?
"But actually filming them in the wild and proving there are breeding populations out there – rather than just the occasional escaped animal – is very difficult."

He said the stealthy movements of the animals, combined with the areas they live in, make them hard to find.

"In Africa, you just set up a camera by a water hole and all the animals from two miles around will come by, and in the Americas, where pumas come from, they can be seen in the open country.

"Here, they can easily dart into the undergrowth and quickly disappear. "
Newsflash, Nigel; most of the cougar’s range in North America is not that much different from England, with the possible exception of our moors. Surprisingly enough, it even contains 'undergrowth'!

And seeing a cougar in anything like open country (save when they encroach on human areas) is about as ‘easy’ as seeing a leopard in daylight in Africa.

Some ‘expert’…
Nigel said the main questions of doubters could be answered easily.
Oh, really?
"It's been too long for these new sightings to be animals released in the 70s, so that suggests they're breeding in the wild or being bred for the black market and being released."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it did not collect reports on big cats and had never found conclusive evidence of big cats living in the wild.
For once, I think I have a lot more faith in the official government line than in any other explanation….


Captain Haddock said...

It would appear that "something" is preying on deer around Strood in Gloucestershire too .. Two have been killed recently, within 10 miles of one another ..

Apparently, DNA has been taken from wounds to the carcass of the latest deer in the hope of establishing whether, or not a "big cat" was responsible ..

Personally, I'm keeping an open mind ..

BTW .. "Expert" can be defined as Ex, as in "used to be" .. and Spert, as in "drip under pressure" .. ;)

Woman on a Raft said...


Sorry to break in, but you might like this 2006 paper by Grant Shapps. It is a pdf clickable from his page:

Retention of innocent children's DNA

Following the case of 14 year old Jack Saywood in his own Welwyn Hatfield constituency, Grant Shapps MP went on to discover that 24,000 children (aged 10 to 18) – who have never been cautioned or charged with any offence – have been added to the Police National DNA Database and will remain on it for life. Grant Shapps has launched a national campaign to have their details removed.

The statistics below demonstrate that the Government has no effective control of the Police National DNA database and we suspect that some Police Forces are taking the lack of clear rules to build a database by stealth. This campaign aims to highlight the issue and calls for the removal of innocent children’s DNA profiles.

(My emphasis)

Woodsy42 said...

How can it be big cats, very unlikely. Surely it is aliens, you know the little grey ones with cute eyes?
You'll be telling us there are wild wallabies in Derbyshire next.

Anonymous said...

You would think even with the stealth of a big cats ability to dissapear into the undergrowth,with so many experts on the lookout for one,a little bit of big cat poo would be evident,given it,s propencity to eat up to 20 pounds of meat at a sitting.

Dan said...

The basis for these stories seems to be the 1976 Wild Animals Act, which formalised the sorts of arrangements you needed to have in order to keep anything classed as a dangerous wild animal. Prior to this it was legal to keep all sorts of exotics however you pleased, and people did (and still do, in America at least).

Lion cubs were freely on sale from Harrods (lions breed rather too well in captivity) and black panthers were also available. Black melanistic mutant cats are vanishingly rare in the wild; black is poor camouflage. It therefore seems likely that the "black panthers" were Asiatic leopards from the animal markets of China, probably sourced from some sort of breeding programme out there.

Come the 1976 Act, quite a few irresponsible owners were said to have simply released their pet big cats out into the British countryside to fend for themselves; estimates for the numbers that were released vary wildly (ahem) as nobody has the least clue as to how many cats there were in the first place.

Now we come to the problems with cats in the wild. Most of the "big cat" sightings are at a distance, and people are absolutely rubbish at judging the size of an animal from a long distance, hence a sighting of "a lioness" which turned out to be a bog-average ginger tomcat. The close-range size estimates put the size range at "Labrador dog sized", i.e. small as leopards go, which does lend some weight to the hypothesis that the source animals were fairly inbred as the melanistic mutant strain was rare and only bred true if heavily inbred.

Secondly, there is a known hybrid between the Scottish wildcat and the domestic cat of which two shot specimens are known and where the skins and skulls have been retained. This animal is vanishingly rare, confined to highland Scotland and colloquially known as a Kellas Cat, or Rabbit-eared Cat. It is larger than either parent species, black in colour and temperamentally very wild and aggressive, but also is in the right size range for "labrador-sized".

Thirdly, Eurasian Lynx were once native to Britain, and if released ought to survive quite well in the wild here, certainly with the profusion of rabbits, rats and so on present in Britain now.

So I personally reckon that whilst most of the big cat sightings are misidentified domestics or vagrant Kellas Cats, and some like the sighting of a juvenile tiger near Church Fenton in Yorkshire are certainly domestic cat/exotic wildcat hybrids, there may be a few surviving offspring of melanistic Asiatic leopards still hanging on as a relic population.

Finally, why on earth were big black cats so bloody popular as pets in the 1960s and 1970s? Well this at least is an easy answer: black goes with everything, you see.

Anonymouslemming said...

So we've got spoor, right? No !? What about scat ? None of that either? But we're still sure ...

Nessie's real too you know !

Lynne said...

In Africa, you just set up a camera by a water hole and all the animals from two miles around will come by...

Same principle applies to birds, hedgehogs and voles in UK gardens too. If that's all it takes to capture out of place super-moggies on digital media I'll set up a camera next to my koi pond. Look out for the ambiguous, blurry result next time Fortean Times updates its ABC (alien big cats) Diary.

Can't understand why someone hasn't thought to do that already...

CJ Nerd said...

I hereby declare myself to be an Invisible Unicorn Expert.

There are loads and loads of invisible unicorns in the UK. In fact, there are half a dozen outside my window right now.

Thing is, the Government keep saying they're not there, and trying to make me look like a nutter when I say they are.

I know the party line you're all going to come up with- that because you haven't seen them they're not there, blah blah. I can refute this Establishment cover-up by saying "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio,than are dreamt of in your philosphy".

In any case, duh- they're *invisible* unicorns, remember?

I say they're out there, and you can't prove otherwise.

JuliaM said...

"Personally, I'm keeping an open mind .."

On some things, so do I. But this one's just too far fetched!

"...but you might like this 2006 paper by Grant Shapps."

Well well, well...

It's not enough to exonerate him from his plan to decant granny to make way for larger families, mind!

"Most of the "big cat" sightings are at a distance, and people are absolutely rubbish at judging the size of an animal from a long distance..."

Oh, quite! There's plenty of CCTV and snaps from mobile phones, but they usually - even with modern cameras - show nothing very convincing.

The Kellas Cat is a possibility, but it's doubtful its spread to the south. And the lynx is quite a distinctive shape, very unlike that often described by viewers.

"Same principle applies to birds, hedgehogs and voles in UK gardens too."

I think the sorts of watering holes the witnesses frequent may have more bearing... ;)

"I hereby declare myself to be an Invisible Unicorn Expert. "


Edwin Greenwood said...

"Newsflash, Nigel; most of the cougar’s range in North America is not that much different from England, with the possible exception of our moors. Surprisingly enough, it even contains 'undergrowth'!"

Indeed. Joan Collins, for example, is sighted in very similar habitats in both countries, mostly posh restaurants and media junkets, I understand.

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