|Big Cats Of The Chilterns||
One of the biggest let downs during my time researching big cat sightings around Buckinghamshire and the surrounding areas is I have never 100 percent observed with no shadow of a doubt a big cat in the United kingdom. I have seen two animals that given the circumstances, movement and behaviour probably were big cats but until I see one with a real level of clarity and scale I will continue to be critical of my own eyes. One of the most devastating events on my search so far is being in a taxi back home after a late night party. Both my wife and the taxi driver watched a large dog sized black cat run across the road in front of them while I was fast asleep on the back seat.
In my desperation over the years to extract large big cat sightings and stories from people used to implement a cunning technique when meeting new people. I would usually ask ‘where are you from’? And if they said High Wycombe for example I would say ‘ah! funny you mention High Wycombe my friend recently told me he was driving near there one night and saw a huge black panther cross the road’!. You would simply not believe the amount of times people say ‘I have a story to tell you about that’! Or I have seen them or my dad has seen one. It almost seems if you added together all these hidden sightings you could grab some large numbers when trying to work out a population estimate. It has been said, quite rightly so, for every official sighting there is usually at least ten that go unreported and judging by how many people appear to have seen big cats in Britain it makes for some very big numbers indeed.
Contrast this to some of my leopard research in India in a region that has a widely accepted thriving leopard population the story is very different. I asked 14 taxi drivers if they had ever seen a leopard. Only one out of the 14 knew another taxi driver who had seen one cross the road late at night in his whole life. This pays homage to the incredible ability for leopards to live in high density urban environments and never get seen by people.
The sheer scale of sightings in Britain hit home to me a few months ago when my wife and another couple from our university days got together for a weekend. After much catching up the subject of my big cat tracking in the Chilterns came up which always is an excuse for a giggle. Little did I ever imagine that I was the only person out of the four of us who had ever seen one? Alex during officer training at Oxford saw a panther like cat whilst in the Pennines, Sabeen had seen one when she was young in her back garden in Kent and my wife had seen one in North West London that night in the taxi.
So how many big cats are there in Buckinghamshire? I have before said in a YouTube video seven would be a guess based on sightings, this is of course just a guess. The truth is it could be more or less and I think the number will never be fully known. One thing is for sure the sightings aligned with verified prints, animal predation and scat mean at the moment at least there is probably more than we ever thought possible.
For all the scepticisms regarding the probability of big cats living and breeding in Buckinghamshire it has become quite clear during my time researching that there is much consistency in reports. The consistency usually spans two elements; species in relation to location over time. Using my map database of sightings narratives have appeared over a time span of 40 years which indicates there is breeding. I am not saying there are thousands but they could be breeding and the more the sightings continue the more likely this is the scenario.
The biggest thing I learned last year from India was the ability of these animals to remain hidden around people for centuries unknown to the human population. Time will tell 2015 may be the year the mystery of big cats in Buckinghamshire and the Chilterns comes closer to a better understanding.
One of the most frequent conundrums faced when debating the existence of hidden animals is rationalising the apparent lack of significant numbers to sustain a population. Even more difficult is to accept an introductory population that appears to have been seeded by complete accident. Is it possible such a population of predatory cats could have established itself in Britain?
As discussed in my previous articles I don’t believe the issue lies with Britain’s human population, available wilderness or spatial arrangement. In order to investigate the possibility a big cat population we
need to consider and compare an array of scenarios and examples of other species introduction, re-establishment or naturalisation elsewhere in the world.
Humans have a great ability to misinterpret the context in which living organisms interact with our modern landscape. In the majority of British gardens less than 15% of plants are native to our own shores, even our lawns are foreign most of which contain domesticated grass strains from the Americas. Naturalisation as the word indicates can be a natural process of succession where all species within an ecosystem jostle for position some will become extinct, some will thrive, and others will change to fill new niches.
In Britain our separation from mainland Europe has strengthened the boundary’s to what is native and what isn’t, except from the last ice age anyway. A list of species naturalised to Britain can be seen in schedule 9 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 giving a level of abstract acceptance to certain non-native species. It comes as a complete surprise to most people that the Ring Necked Parakeet is now accepted as a naturalised species of the British Isles. Ironically leopards which were present in Britain till at least 12 thousand years ago would not be considered to be a native animal even if one was caught in the wild. There are many rumours attributed to how the parakeet population started, even so it is probable only a hand few of escaped birds were accountable for today’s population of 4000.
It is largely accepted that viable populations of larger potentially dangerous animals could not form from a few escapees, however contrary to this belief this has happened in the case of wild boar, coypu and wallabies on our small crowded Island and in recent times. Even if large cats like leopards or pumas were turned loose what is the probability there were sufficient numbers released at the same time without a national emergency?
This Blog is a diary of my ongoing research to explore and draw some conclusions on the viabilitiy of a current population. I am to create a series of maps which will utilise sightings data, land use types, habitats and landscape corridors to illustrate the possabilities and facts.
I have been interested in mystery wild cats in Britain since I was a young Boy.