Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Tuesday August 28 2012 by Adrian LeeTHE genteel surroundings of Clacton-on-Sea are about as far removed from the usual habitat of a lion as can be imagined. So it was only natural that reports that the King of the Jungle had somehow found his way to the Essex coast caused a stir.
A hunt for the beast involving marksmen and helicopters was launched and people were warned to stay indoors before the search was called off yesterday leaving a mystery.
However, we shouldn’t be surprised that the authorities gave it their full attention.
Defra, the government department responsible for the countryside, does not accept that big cats and other exotic wild beasts roam freely in Britain.
Yet there’s compelling evidence to the contrary. From the desolate Highlands of Scotland to the busy streets of London, wild animals normally associated with the other side of the world have apparently been seen in almost every nook and cranny of the nation. In the past decade there have been more than 6,000 sightings, including 190 this year alone.
Mark Fraser, founder of Big Cats in Britain, says: “The vast majority of sightings are a case of mistaken identity but I have little doubt there are big cats out there. They don’t survive in large numbers but big cats are very adaptable and the ­climate in Britain is perfect.
ìThere’s also a plentiful food ­supply. A big cat can survive on one deer, or two rabbits, a week
Mark Fraser, founder of Big Cats in Britain
“There’s also a plentiful food ­supply. A big cat can survive on one deer, or two rabbits, a week.”
Big Cats in Britain takes its responsibilities seriously and, in addition to volunteers all over the UK, has DNA testing facilities and trackers ready to spring into action the moment there’s a quality sighting. It’s also inundated with carcasses and ­droppings, sent by members of the public who are intent on solving the riddle of Britain’s wild beasts.
The animals most likely to thrive in the UK are black leopards, ­jaguars and sandy-coloured pumas, which are also known as mountain lions.
Lynx, which were supposedly hunted out of existence in medieval times, could also be roaming wild. There have been calls to re-introduce the animals officially, to ­control the deer population, along with wolves, which died out in the 1700s. Wild boar, hunted in ancient times by kings, could also be poised for a revival.

Down the years there have been some famous encounters. The most notorious big cat is the Beast of Bodmin, which has been seen regularly since the Eighties. Sightings in this area of Cornwall, along with the discoveries of animal carcasses bearing fang-like marks, have prompted claims of a colony of ­panther-like wild cats.
The Beast of Bodmin’s infamy reached a peak in 1983 when a Devon farmer reported 100 sheep killed. The Government mobilised a team of crack snipers from the Royal Marines but all that was found at the time was a fox.
When a 14-year-old boy came across a skull in the River Fowey it seemed proof had finally been unearthed. However, experts at London’s Natural History Museum concluded it was from a panther that had been killed overseas and dropped on the moor.
That hasn’t stopped amateur trackers descending on the area and there is a 20-second video showing a black, three-and-a-half foot animal roaming the region.
Sceptics say that even if these beasts do exist the chances of the same species meeting and mating is highly unlikely.
In addition to fearsome animals, species such as racoons, wallabies, scorpions and a penguin are also on the loose, says a report by animal group Beastwatch UK.
Big cat hunters have also targeted Carmarthenshire, in South Wales, following a spate of attacks on sheep.
In Wales in August 2000, an 11-year old boy was attacked near his home in Monmouthshire.
Josh Hopkins from Trellech, needed medical treatment after he was left with five claw marks across his face. Experts thought a juvenile leopard might have been the culprit.
In 1994 a beast known as “the fen tiger” was captured on video in Cambridgeshire and sightings from this area continued up until 2008.
In October 1980, a female puma was captured at Cannich in Inverness-shire. The big cat had been spotted in the area for up to two years before a farmer built a metal cage trap and placed it on part of his land where the animal was known to roam.
The captive puma was taken to Kincraig Wildlife Park near ­Kingussie and lived for another five years. Christened Felicity, she was stuffed after her death and can now be seen at Inverness Museum.
The animal, which was remarkably tame, had almost certainly been released into the wild by a private collector not long before the initial sightings. Intriguingly, Felicity’s capture did not end the sightings and the wide expanse of the Highlands would seem to be ideal territory for such beasts to roam freely.
More surprising was the case of Lara the Lynx, a big cat captured in Golders Green, North London, in May 2001.
London Zoo’s head keeper of big cats Ray Charter, who answered a call from a member of the public, said at the time: “We get numerous calls reporting big cat sightings and so far nearly all of them have proved incorrect. It usually turns out to be a large domestic cat.
“You can imagine my surprise when I bent down to look under the hedge expecting to see a large ­ginger Tom, only to be met by a much more exotic face.”
The animal evaded capture with a net but was eventually sedated with a dart from a blowpipe. Lara’s origins are unknown but she was last heard of living happily in a zoo in France where she was part of a breeding programme.
Another lynx was shot after attacking sheep near Norwich in 1991. Two years later a leopard ­suffered the same fate on the Isle of Wight after feasting on poultry.
Yorkshire is the area of Britain which produces the most sightings but reports come in from all over the UK.
So far this year there have been 190 reports of wild animals on the loose following more than 500 in 2011. This year’s crop includes the case of two terrified joggers who claim to have been confronted by a big black cat in the Lake District in February. There have been many similar reports of a large black beast in the same area.
Also this year, the discovery of a series of savaged deer corpses fuelled fears that a big cat was on the prowl in Gloucestershire. The county’s Forest of Dean is another renowned hot spot but these beasts are incredibly ­elusive. Mark Fraser of Big Cats in Britain has been keeping an eye out for them for 25 years but has sighted only three.
His most exciting encounter was in 2004, near Hemingby in Lincolnshire, where DNA tests on a hair recovered from an old caravan, ­confirmed the existence of a black leopard.
He says: “I was following up reports of a sighting of a black cat and saw it run across a field. I have no doubt it was a leopard. It’s been seen several times since.”
Putting a figure on the precise number of big cats on the loose at any one time is impossible. A single puma can roam across territory covering 160 square miles so the same beast is likely to generate multiple sightings. The lifespan of a big cat in the wild is about 12 years. It’s likely that most sightings are of animals that have escaped from zoos or been illegally released by private collectors.
Since 1976 it’s been illegal to own any of the big cats without a licence. Before then it was fashionable for the rich and famous to have exotic pets such as panthers and pumas, which were decked out in tacky, glittery collars and paraded around the streets.
It was expected that tightening the law would result in a slump in sightings but that’s not been the case.
Fraser says: “For some people, owing a wild cat is still a status symbol. Throughout the world the illegal trade of these animals is ­second only to drug dealing.”
The Holy Grail for organisations which track and monitor these elusive beasts is to prove the existence of breeding colonies.
Fraser adds: “There have been reliable reports of mothers and cubs but no concrete evidence.”
Reassuringly, the chances of anyone coming unexpectedly face-to-face with a big cat are remote. They are shy animals, which hunt at night and shun open spaces but the expert warns: “If you happen to corner one it will go for you. They are dangerous wild animals and deserve our respect.
“A big cat can easily kill a human, although the reality is it will be aware of you before you get anywhere near and probably be long gone.” Unlike the life-size toy tiger which sparked a major operation when it was left lying in a field near Southampton last year.
Source: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/342457/It-s-a-jungle-out-there

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