There has been much debate over the clarity of so called big cat tracks found within the UK for a long time now mainly due to enthusiasts inexperience with large feline pug marks. It has to be said that the rise of the internet and Facebook groups brought much discussion to the table with researchers evidence posted online for a mass critique from other researchers and foreign experts on Puma, Leopard and Lynx. I have seen dog print after dog print posted online and on the front page of tabloid articles continuously over the years. The truth is I believe that after 12 years actively researching big cats in Buckinghamshire I have only just started to identify big cat tracks with any 100 per cent confidence when out in the field.
One of the things I noticed when tracking leopards in India with Krishna was leopard tracks were never scrutinised the way tracks were in the UK for the simple reason of general shape and size. In India there are hundreds of dogs just like the UK putting down tracks on every rural trail, the difference in India is 90 % of the dogs are feral and about the size of a large fox. When tracking leopards in India size can instantly give the researcher an indication of either dog or leopard. Based on this I am not insinuating this is the limit to the separation of species by experts oversees but I am reinforcing the point that elements of doubt can be put aside by very basic factors.
In Britain dogs are more commonly priced pets than feral with breeds of all different shapes and sizes, this can lead to many variables in their prints with added visual variables such as the print medium, if the dog was walking on a slope or if it was running. In order to be 100 per cent sure you have come across a big cat print in Britain you need to find 'text book' examples of these which mirror track finds abroad. What I have found very interesting during my years of research and time in India is not every Leopard track looks the same with some I have seen in India being in the realm of inconclusive if found in the UK.
All this said in the last 5 years I have seen a great refinement in the quality of active researchers knowledge within the UK with British researchers having a great critical eye for big cat evidence and tracking. I have only in the last two years seen what I would call 'text book' big cat tracks with absolutely no doubt what so ever of what they are with our over seas experts confirming these as either Leopard, Puma and Lynx. It seems that we have now come out of the realm of unconfident stature to a more refined situation more likely to keep the information amongst ourselves for undisturbed study of these animals in our shadows.
Buckinghamshire has already had confirmed puma tracks in 2003 by experts at the Wycombe Heights Golf Course so track finds in Bucks is not a huge land mark. Below is a graphic for a general rule when differentiating large cat tracks from dog tracks.
As you can see above the dog print holistically takes on a more oval perimeter form whereas the cats perimeter is more circular. The toes of the cat are spread more widely in a gentle curve like the arrangement of our knuckles in comparison to the dogs forward set two front toes. The heel pad to toe pad ratio of a cat means the heel has more mass than the toes with dogs having much smaller heel pads.
My last trek through the big cat hot spots of the Chilterns had me discover some prints which I am happy to say are from a large feline. Two experts have confirmed my suspicion's of Leopard which is commonly sighted in this area with one expert sexing the print as a large male. Please see below:
I have been interested in mystery wild cats in Britain since I was a young Boy.