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:
Interesting to see some official reports to the police regarding big cats in Buckinghamshire and the Chilterns.
Neil Arnold has been so kind in finding this news paper clipping regarding a local Count who kept a menagerie at Bucks including a leopard at Stokenchurch. He thought I'd be interested, dam right! it's from the Glasgow Herald of Dec 6th 1962.
Its interesting that the same vicinities within Buckinghamshire and the Chilterns continuously through up sighting reports of big cats.
I thought I would quickly post an old article that was written years ago which has always stuck out in my mind as interesting because it represents the big cat activity being experienced in Buckinghamshire going back 30 years. What strikes me as even more interesting is that the location of this activity still provides sightings to this day. The hills around Stokenchurch I believe have at least one resident Black Leopard. For big cat sightings in Buckinghamshire and the Chilterns to span over 40 years means there must be breeding but the research continues.
'WHEN you are walking through the countryside and you come across a puma it gives you quite a shock! The appearance of pumas and other big cats may be dismissed as escaped creatures from zoos or the strong imagination of witnesses but some researchers believe something more supernatural may be afoot.
In 1983 there were a series of sightings around Britain and particularly at Stokenchurch, Chinnor and Bledlow Ridge. The Thame Gazette's front page of June 13th told how Bob O'Neill, of Greenwood Avenue, Chinnor, came across a large cat while walking along a footpath with his grandaughter behind Chinnor cement works. He went to scare the animal away from his granddaughter, Rachel. But the animal flattened its ears, dropped its belly to the ground and continued to advance. The cat got close enough for Bob to hit it twice on the nose with his walking stick before it ran off. Other sightings that year were to occur at Stokenchurch, Bledlow Ridge. Armed police hunted the animal but it always escaped capture.'
A far cry from my usual big cat research work in Buckinghamshire and the Chiltern hills, there are however Tigers in the parts of India I researched needless to say we know we have no tigers in Britain. Please click the link below to our sister site to read about my Big cat research & experiences in India.
I thought I would start the new year buy posting some unseen camera trap images from the chilterns, no black panthers
I have had various people look at the scat and all agree it looks like either Puma or Leopard. Wildlife expert Jonathon McGowan stated ‘very typical puma like scat’,’ I don’t think it is dog Paul, I think it is a cat scat especially going by the large chunks of bone, dogs have more teeth than a cat
and do much more chewing so usually the broken bone fragments are smaller. The hairs are very dark and will not let light through to see the medulla. The tiny under fur hair looked exactly like a puma but that could be just coincidence.
He goes on to say unfortunately it is at least a couple of weeks old and the possibility of finding DNA from the inner tract of the host on the outside of the scat is highly unlikely, hence not economical to take it to the University lab for DNA testing.
The most notable particulars of this scat are the hairs found inside. Microscopic analysis has identified badger and cow. Leopards and Pumas will take badgers and calves. Have any young cattle been predated on within the last couple of months? It seems highly unlikely that local pet dogs would be eating these types of animals, also dogs don’t consume as much hair as cats as cats
rasping tongues strip the fur ingesting large quantities of fur in their feeding. The bone fragments in the scat at the tapered end seem to be badger skull which is consistent with cat
feeding. Amur Leopards in Russia favour the Eurasian Badger (same species of Badger in UK) as a prey item and regularly crush the scull to feed on the brain.
The overall shape of Leopard scat is tubular with many lobes with one end blunt and the other tapered. White colouration is common from the bones of prey animals. All is consistent with the scat found in Hodge moor woods last month. It is imposable to prove without DNA but from the experts that have looked into this there is simply no other option.
I am sure you will be interested to hear I am travelling to India in a month’s time for 2 months tracking leopards in sub-urban parts of Mumbai and Goa. I will also be tracking these cats in the Jungle Mountains of the Western Ghats. I have set the groundwork for this trip and will be meeting many leopard experts in tracking and camera trapping big cats.
I am hoping this will better my understanding of these elusive cats and equip me with the tools we need to get evidence of them living and breeding in Buckinghamshire for the last 30 years. I will be updating my video diary while away; http://www.bigcatsofthechilterns.co.uk/video-diary.html
regards to Hodgemoor Woods due to the forest being thinned at the moment any animals will probably be staying away but the reality is any large cats in South Buckinghamshire will be constantly moving around during the few hours of darkness and sleeping the majority of the day around quarries, breakers yards, run down farms and derelict land as the urban leopards do in Mumbai.
The September 2013 UK big cat conference was a great success. Over the years with a surge in interest in the British big cat phenomena many groups and individuals have become actively involved in the research. One thing that becomes very apparent during conferences is that we don’t always agree on everything, we all do however learn an awful lot from each over. I very much enjoyed giving my lecture on urban leopards across the world and how it relates to my research areas in Buckinghamshire. I also enjoyed meeting some of the other researchers who I have known of and had a lot of respect for for a very long time.
Lynx Camera results
The site of the lynx hairs camera results have arrived!
As usual with these things we do not always get to celebrate an amazing video of one of the Chiltern's elusive big cats.
The camera was set up for two months after periodic sightings of a lynx on the property of a couple near Saunderton. This was not the first time they had seen the animal with sightings going back 5 years. The home owners recalled the first night they saw the cat when they heard a crash on top of their shed roof one winters morning at about 3am. The lynx had 'very large eyes' and 'was about three feet long with a very square face and very short tail'.
The couple had managed to gain hair samples from the animal where it climbed past the balustrade to access the roof. Specialists have confirmed the hair as 95% chance of being lynx with microscopic analysis. The hairs are now awaiting DNA analysis, updates will be posted when I receive them.
There was no conclusive footage of a large cat on the stealth cam but as we have learnt many times before the cats travel large distances and ar
I have been interested in mystery wild cats in Britain since I was a young Boy.