Rumours of huge cats, comparable to leopards and mountain lions, residing wild within the UK have been effervescent for many years. Now, a photograph alleged to point out a black leopard in Staffordshire and DNA proof featured in a documentary have renewed curiosity in the concept that massive felines roam the nation. Here’s what we learn about these thriller cats.
The place does the picture come from?
In August 2023, Dragonfly Movies, the producer of the documentary Panthera Britannia Declassified, launched a picture apparently displaying a black leopard (Panthera pardus) mendacity in lengthy grass. The picture was allegedly taken in Smallthorne, Staffordshire, and despatched by an unknown particular person to the Centre for Fortean Zoology, an organisation that investigates thriller animals within the UK, over a decade in the past, says Tim Whittard from Dragonfly Movies.
“My feeling is that it’s a actual picture of a giant cat,” says Whittard. However whether or not the picture was taken of a freely roaming cat within the UK is unconfirmed.
“It appears to be like prefer it was photographed in such a method that you simply couldn’t see the background, which makes me assume it’s doubtless a captive cat,” says Whittard. “That is a type of mysteries that can most likely by no means be solved.”
Are there actually huge cats roaming wild within the UK?
The time period “huge cat” usually refers to species that belong to the genus Panthera , comparable to lions, jaguars and leopards. Nevertheless, cheetahs, lynxes and cougars – often known as mountain lions – are generally related to the phrase.
There are just a few instances of such animals being seen within the UK, comparable to a puma captured in 1980 and a lynx shot by a farmer in 1991, however, in line with the UK’s Division of Setting, Meals and Rural Affairs (Defra), there was no credible proof of huge cats introduced to Pure England, a public physique accountable for the safety of England’s pure surroundings, in current many years.
“If we had been introduced with credible info to recommend there was a giant cat residing wild and posing a menace to public well being and security, we’d report the matter to the native police and the House Workplace,” a Defra spokesperson informed New Scientist.
However a handful of individuals disagree with this official evaluation. This consists of Rick Minter, the host of the Massive Cat Conversations podcast, who believes the proof strongly suggests the presence of enormous felines within the UK countryside.
The place are they and what number of are there?
Alleged sightings of huge cats have been reported throughout the UK. The British Massive Cats Society says that it receives between 500 to 600 stories a yr, however these are largely unverified and nameless. Freedom of data requests to UK police forces have additionally revealed a small variety of stories over the previous decade.
The majority of the stories have been of black leopards, often known as panthers, says Minter. Round 15 per cent of sightings are of sandy-coloured cats, which could possibly be mountain lions (Puma concolor), says Minter, and the remaining 5 per cent are of lynxes.
To maintain a steady and wholesome inhabitants, there would most likely have to be not less than 300 people of every species, says Minter. There isn’t any proof of this although.
Is there any proof, past reported sightings?
Nothing agency, regardless of the variety of individuals saying they’ve seen huge cats. “There must be scientific proof to again all of this up,” says Andrew Hemmings on the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, UK.
One method to establish the presence of those cats is to have a look at the carcasses of animals comparable to foxes, deer and sheep; Hemmings and his colleagues have analysed over 100 carcasses. Thus far, solely 4 exhibit tooth marks, often known as tooth pits, that recommend the involvement of a medium-to-large feral cat.
These analyses alone can’t present definitive proof although. “The gold customary can be to mix what we’re seeing with our tooth-pit evaluation with verified DNA proof,” says Hemmings.
Do we have now DNA proof?
In its documentary, Dragonfly Movies additionally claims to have discovered the primary DNA proof for a giant cat in Gloucestershire. Hemmings and Minter are optimistic in regards to the declare, however others are sceptical.
“Until they really recorded how that hair pattern was captured and examined, [the claim] may have a gray cloud over it,” says Danny Bamping on the British Massive Cats Society.
If the massive cats do exist, are they harmful?
There have been no confirmed incidences of untamed huge cats attacking individuals or their pets within the UK.
“If given the selection, they’d all the time keep away from human contact,” says Hemmings. “For my part, they pose a negligible danger to individuals.”