I READ with interest the reaction experienced by CR Miles when he observed one of our British big cats – in this instance a black leopard-type animal, in southern Scotland some 15 years ago, (Citizen, Letters, January 29).
I receive many similar reports annually from people in all walks of life in all parts of the country, who happen to be in the right place at the right time. Gloucestershire especially seems to be a hotspot for big cat sightings, and in 2013, from January to December I collated over 50 of these from local people who were just as entranced as the witness in your latest report.
The question is not ‘are they out there?’ but ‘how many?’
We don’t know the answer to this, but every county in the British Isles has reports of these large elusive wild animals that exist and thrive in our countryside, and often, especially during the bleak winter months, on the perimeters of towns and villages where the food waste and small livestock such as domestic rabbits and backyard chickens lure them in.
To most people, ensconced within their cosy lifestyle with the world at their fingertips via the internet and television, the concept of non-native predatory big cats in our midst is rather disconcerting to say the least. Like other exotic British wildlife, such as Sika and muntjac deer, American mink, parakeets, and wild boar, these cats have naturalised and are now established within our shores.
Ironically, part of their diet includes the two above mentioned non-native deer.
I believe that many of these big cats have hybridised over the years, as we seem to have a few different types being reported from across the UK, but a particular animal has emerged overall and now seems to be breeding true to type if 80 per cent of the sightings are anything to go by.
That is a creature of slim to medium build, black in colour, feline in appearance, between the size of a Labrador or German shepherd dog with a long body and tail and with the typical elasticated movement that all the cat family possess.
Why don’t we see them more often? Well, how many people have seen a wild otter or a mink in their travels? Some species become habituated to mankind, generally because we encroach on their territory or their adaptability brings them into our living space.
Most of the time wild creatures avoid the noise and smell of people, and stay out of sight, especially cats which by nature are silent and stealthy. Even in their native countries, leopards and pumas are ghost-like in their behaviour, and wildlife film-makers will admit that it is a lesson in patience to record footage of these cryptic cats.
So yes, you are right CR Miles, luck does play an important part in spotting these big cats.