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Are there really big cats roaming the UK countryside?

A doable picture of a black leopard, featured within the documentary Panthera Britannia Declassified

Dragonfly Movies / SWNS

Rumours of massive cats, corresponding to leopards and mountain lions, residing wild within the UK have been effervescent for many years. Now, a photograph alleged to indicate a black leopard in Staffordshire and DNA proof featured in a documentary have renewed curiosity in the concept giant felines roam the nation. Here’s what we learn about these thriller cats.

The place does the photograph 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 photograph 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 photograph 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 seems prefer it was photographed in such a approach that you simply couldn’t see the background, which makes me suppose it’s possible a captive cat,” says Whittard. “That is a type of mysteries that can in all probability by no means be solved.”

Are there actually huge cats roaming wild within the UK?

The time period “huge cat” sometimes refers to species that belong to the genus Panthera , corresponding to lions, jaguars and leopards. Nevertheless, cheetahs, lynxes and cougars – often known as mountain lions – are generally related to the phrase.

There are a number of circumstances of such animals being seen within the UK, corresponding to a puma captured in 1980 and a lynx shot by a farmer in 1991, however, based on the UK’s Division of Surroundings, Meals and Rural Affairs (Defra), there was no credible proof of massive cats offered to Pure England, a public physique chargeable for the safety of England’s pure atmosphere, in current many years.

“If we have been offered with credible info to recommend there was a giant cat residing wild and posing a menace to public well being and security, we might report the matter to the native police and the Dwelling 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 huge felines within the UK countryside.

The place are they and what number of are there?

Alleged sightings of massive cats have been reported throughout the UK. The British Massive Cats Society says that it receives between 500 to 600 reviews a 12 months, however these are largely unverified and nameless. Freedom of data requests to UK police forces have additionally revealed a small variety of reviews over the previous decade.

The majority of the reviews have been of black leopards, often known as panthers, says Minter. Round 15 per cent of sightings are of sandy-coloured cats, which might 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 in all probability have to be at the least 300 people of every species, says Minter. There is no such thing as a 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 needs to be scientific proof to again all of this up,” says Andrew Hemmings on the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, UK.

One approach to establish the presence of those cats is to take a look at the carcasses of animals corresponding to foxes, deer and sheep; Hemmings and his colleagues have analysed over 100 carcasses. To this point, 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 now we have 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.

“Except 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 large 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.”


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