Officially speaking, Britain’s largest and deadliest carnivore isn’t a wolf, cougar or grizzly bear – it’s actually the badger.
Yet since the 18th Century, there have been
rumours of much more fearsome beasts stalking British landscapes – namely a
population of ABCs, or Anomalous or Alien Big Cats. These could range from a
domestic moggy to a fully grown panther.
Big cats recently returned to the headlines
following the discovery of two mauled deer carcasses at Woodchester Park
in Gloucestershire, which seemed to show evidence of feline predation. The
first recorded sightings of modern times date back to the early 1950s, when a
large black feline dubbed the Surrey Puma was spotted prowling through the
countryside near Farnham. Since then, there have been numerous other sightings
– from the Cornish moors all the way to the Scottish hills – but conclusive
evidence has proved elusive. Despite a wealth of grainy photos and shaky
videos, no-one has been able to definitively prove that ABCs are at large.
As so often, DNA tests on the deer
carcasses in Gloucestershire revealed another dead end: the only trace found on
the carcasses was that of a fox, which most likely scavenged the creatures
after death. For big cat believers, this is all par for the course. “There’s no
doubt in my mind that big cats exist in Britain,” states Danny Bamping, a
spokesman for the British Big Cats
Society. “There’s simply too much good evidence to dismiss them as figments
of people’s imaginations.”
While most sightings turn out to be nothing
more sinister than house cats, some are harder to explain. After the introduction
of the Dangerous
Wild Animals Act in 1976, many private collectors are thought to have
turned their animals loose. Since then, several large cats – including lynx,
bobcats and leopard cats (smaller than leopards) – have been shot and killed on
the British Isles, and in 1980 a tame puma called Felicity was captured in
Scotland and moved to a Scottish zoo. Others are said to have interbred with
domestic animals, leading to new varieties such as the Kellas cat – a hybrid
with a wildcat – found in Scotland in 1984.
For Bamping, this is just more evidence to
add to a substantial file. “No-one should be in any doubt,” he says. “Big cats
are here, and if they’re breeding, then they’re here to stay.”
to look for Britain’s big cats
Puma, Dumfries and Galloway
Canadian tourists in the late 1990s spotted what
appeared to be a black panther while walking in the forest near Kirroughtree in
Galloway. Farmers and Forestry Commission workers have caught glimpses since,
but no conclusive evidence of the animal has emerged.
Where to look: sightings were reported
across the Galloway
Forest region in the summer of 2009.
Beast of Bodmin, Cornwall
Since the 1980s, more than 60 sightings have been
made of a large, panther-like creature on Bodmin Moor. Locals have claimed that
such cats have been responsible for numerous attacks on livestock. In 1995, a
large leopard’s skull was discovered near the River Fowey.
Where to look: allegedly sighted at Trewithen Gardens near Truro
in the summer of 2011.
Beast of Exmoor, Devon
In 1983, a farmer in South Molton near Exmoor
claimed to have lost more than 100 sheep in three months – the suspected
culprit was the Beast of Exmoor, a panther-like feline that’s been sighted
since the early 1970s. In 1988, a team of Royal Marine snipers attempted to
track and kill the beast, but no trace was found.
Where to look: a cat-like carcass was found
on a beach near Croyde Bay in
2009. This eventually turned out to be a grey seal.
Fen Tiger, Cambridgeshire
First reported in 1982 in Cottenham,
Cambridgeshire, this big cat apparently resembles a large puma rather than a
tiger. Local man William Rooker captured some impressive footage of a large cat
prowling across a field in 1994, and frequent sightings have been made in
various parts of the Fens since.
Where to look: seen near the town of Royston
in Hertfordshire in 2011.
of Burford, Oxfordshire
Another notorious series of sightings began around
2005 when a black cat was snapped slinking across fields in Oxfordshire. Farmer
Colin Dawes claimed to have watched the animal running off after mauling sheep,
and off-duty wildlife officer Simon Towers even took a cast of a paw print he
found in local woodland.
Where to look: Burford in west Oxfordshire is a good start, but the trail has
gone cold in recent times.
of Woodchester, Gloucestershire
The latest in a string of cats sighted in the UK, this one was thought to have
mauled roe deer in the National Trust’s Woodchester Park this January. In
February, a large cat-like animal was filmed in fields outside Stroud, while in
April a paw print was found in a building site in Cheltenham.
Where to look: last seen sprinting across
fields on the outskirts of Gloucester in May of this year.