Monday, 3 September 2012

Big cats in Britain (or not)

It seems you can't go longer than 5 days without another sighting of a British big cat somewhere. In fact the sightings are so prevalent (if blurry) that I taught about the possibilities of big cats in Britain as a tenuously linked science in the media lesson. I then went on to do at least 2 other lessons about cryptozoology but that is neither here no there in this article. 

I must say I quite like cryptozoology especially the sightings that are so fake they make you physically laugh out loud! Sorry they make you LOL! In fact the fabled Beast of Bodmin Moor is a classic example of as cryptozoological big cat (there is more on the Natural History Museum website). 

This summer there was a report about the Essex Lion which in my opinion looks like a fat tabby with a mane. In fact someone tried to claim as much by saying it was there large cat which likes to hunt. These stories tend to have credence lead to them by the fact up until 1976 private owners of big cats were allowed to walk them in public. The question of how many have escaped and not been reported and so could be hiding somewhere is too good to not ask. Added to that the fact we still have large open areas for them to potentially live in allows peoples minds to run wild with the possibilities! 

I do believe that there is also the allure of the unknown and the potential for something 'exciting' on peoples doorsteps - see the cryptozoology article. Plus as an island nation the 'Little Britain' mentality tends to sink in and we almost want a large higher order predator living locally. Remember it is possible for large numbers of larger animals to live without people really realising it; think Roe Deer numbers and Britains Wild Boar population.

If you intersperse in this the odd sensationalist story such as the mangled deer carcass in Gloucestershire early this year. In case you didn't catch that story there was a Roe deer found torn up to a degree that it was believed that the marks on the deer could only have been caused by a large cat. Cue lots of speculation as to what had killed the deer. Fortunately they did DNA test on the corpse and found that the only DNA present other than deer was fox. This may seem weird but like the large house cat foxes have been shown to get very large when there is an abundance of food. It makes you wonder about photographs like this one that show a large black cat. Could this be a big cat, a large domestic cat, or worse a fake?

In fact I doubt there are big cats in Britain at all, especially over 800 (I know that is a misreported figure it is based on the amount of people reporting 'big cats', I just find it funny!). I think if there really was a population of big cats regardless of the species then there would have been better evidence supporting this than just some blurry photos from afar. However as long as it is still a seductive thought I am sure people will continue to report our 'big cats' to newspapers - who naturally will run the stories!

In fact we do have a 'proper' big cat though. I know stop the press! Well I say big cat the big should be in '' really. The Scottish Wildcat is probably the closest we have to a big cat in Britain. It is a shame that they are becoming increasingly rare - same old issues of competition, habitat destruction and breeding with domestic cats (creating hybrids) - hopefully though they will be conserved and not go extinct. 

Although as with the boars, it is possible for large animals to be 'accidentally' introduced back in the wild and survive very well. Unfortunately for the wildcat - maybe - there are still people working to reintroduce Wolves to Scotland. Whether this will go ahead, and if it does whether they will be in competition with the wildcat I don't know. Until then though we should celebrate our wildcat, or as I like to think of it as the Highland Tiger!  

I do love that thought - Highland Tiger - much better than a fat cat with a mane!

1 comment:

  1. Just an addition really there is a test being developed to prove a Highland Tiger from a hybrid or a large domestic cat!