Big cats are silently lurking in the British countryside

Normally you'd see black panthers, pumas and lynx at your nearest zoo (or in some sport shoe shop!) Would you ever think for a minute that they are roaming all over the British countryside?

 

According to the British Big Cats Society - a UK Network of people whose aim is to research, study and analyse the presence of big cats throughout Britain

- sightings in Britain have reached record levels in 2002. In the past year it has received more than 800 reports of big cat sightings - and from every county.

 

Evidence now accumulated includes sightings, photographs of paw prints and tree scratchings, livestock kills, hair samples and two dead wild cats!

 

There are even stories of a man who had to escape into his garage after his hand was slashed by something he thought from a distance was a large fox, except that it had black hairy tufts on the tips of its ears - and a horse mysteriously lacerated in West Wales. And in Wiltshire, six people reported seeing a puma "sunbathing" at the same time.

 

But how did these predators ever get into the native British environment in the first place? Well, private circuses touring the country have allowed animals to escape over the years. Also, in the 1960s and 1970s, people kept big cats like pumas as pets and used to walk them like dogs. Then in 1976 the Dangerous Wild Animals Act came into force, and people released their cats into the wild because they did not want to pay for a licence, put them down, or take them to a zoo.

 

Leicestershire, Gloucestershire, Norfolk and Scotland are the hot spots of big cat activity. Lynx are thought to be established and breeding in the Scottish countryside, particularly Fife, Aberdeenshire, Inverness and the Borders.

 

The British Big Cats Society plans to install a network of trigger-cameras across Britain to capture further evidence of the cats, which it will then show to the Government. It believes the risk from big cats is not being taken seriously - the Government's official line is that they do not exist.

 

But what then should the government do about it? This isn't exactly like Jurassic Park - with a big T. Rex and raptors lurking in the dark undergrowth!

 

Shouldn't the big cats be left in peace to roam those lonely Scottish hills, fens, moors and forests?

 

Bruce Wenham

 

August 2002

 

 

RELATED WEB SITES:

 

www.britishbigcats.com

www.scottishbigcats.org

www.beastwatch.org.uk

www.ukbigcats.co.uk

 

VOCABULARY

 

big cats - tigers, lions, leopards etc

 

county - a portion of a country separated for administrative, parliamentary or other purposes, a shire

 

fen - low marshy land often/partially covered with water

 

hot spot - an area of potential trouble, esp political or military(in this case big cats!)

 

lacerated - wounded; torn or ripped

 

livestock - domestic animals, esp horses, cattle, sheep and pigs

 

lurking - lying in wait; concealed

 

lynx - an animal of the Lynx genus of the cat family, high at the haunches, with long legs, a short tail and tufted ears

 

moor - a wide expanse of uncultivated ground, esp upland, often covered with heath, with a poor, peaty soil

 

paw - a clawed foot

 

put down - to kill an old or ill animal

 

raptor - a velociraptor - a fast-running, two-legged (bipedal) dinosaur with a characteristic, sickle-like, retractable claw

 

roaming - roving about; wandering

 

slashed - cut with slashes - long cuts

 

T. Rex - tyrannosaurus rex, a huge meat-eating dinosaur

 

trigger-cameras - cameras activated by a trigger - normally a lever that releases a catch so as to fire a gun or set a mechanism going

 

tufts - separate locks of hair

 

undergrowth - low plants growing under taller ones, esp shrubs under trees

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