Posted by: bigcat101 | February 25, 2015


“The deer was running for it’s life” said Betty. She was recounting an incident to me, in August 2014 when her husband was driving them back from work at night on the southern edge of Cirencester. She spotted the deer first and told her husband to slow down. As they stopped and watched the deer speed away, out came a black panther into the road. It turned quickly to look at the car, then continued, jumping a roadside wall in the same direction as the deer. Betty described the cat as ” a beautiful animal ” and identical to the one shown in the newspaper, for which they used a stock picture. She and her husband had kept this to themselves, for fear of ridicule, but with other Cirencester reports being published in the Wiltshire and Cotswold Standard (linked above) over the winter she felt it was now time to speak up. The photo in the paper was a large black leopard – certainly a male. Other witnesses had described a black panther recently right up close to the town, near the hospital and Roman ampitheatre, where witnesses had reported them before.

Betty wanted to know if they are dangerous. She had been living in nearby rented accommodation in the countryside but not going for country walks despite her husbands’ encouragement, because of what she saw up-close from the car than night. I tried to put her mind at ease as much a possible. So here was a person with the mixed emotions of facing a big cat, and right on the doorstep of our study in Cirencester at the Royal Agricultural University.

As a result of the Winter 2014-15 reports around Cirencester I spoke to a Parish Council Chair in the area. She emailed me the following personal view on the matter: “I’d like to think that there are a few big cats around, quietly getting on with their lives. I’d also like to be lucky enough to see one, but I don’t think that’s something we can seek to do, it has to come as an unexpected gift.”

big cat sighting

Posted by: bigcat101 | February 24, 2015


Three days at the Bushcraft Show in May were the start of my 2014 season of information stalls on big cats. The set up comprises a tent with exhibits, photos, literature and props. All of this explains the evidence for feral big cats and allows people to discuss the topic in a grown-up way. Some passers-by may consider it all a fairy tale, but the people who venture in are usually intrigued and appreciative. Each day is full-on with queries, heartfelt discussion, local gossip, and sightings described. On each occasion the trend of reports is consistent: around three quarters are black panthers (resembling a melanistic or black leopard), and the remainder mostly puma (also know as mountain lion and cougar) and a small proportion of lynx descriptions. In some instances people describe the behavioural traits and calls of these cats with great precision.

Throughout the Bushcraft Show reports kept coming. A vet described how a panther rushed along a forest trackside in Northumberland as he drove along, getting a broadside view of the creature as it was startled by his 4×4. An early morning fisherman explained his shock at watching a puma emerge from scrub at a lake just five miles from the Show’s venue in south Derbyshire. He noticed pigeons shoot away as an animal broke cover, and gazed in amazement as the cat checked out the waterside environment at dawn.

Five months later a Forest of Dean event was the last of the season. A country show and food festival in the early Autumn. It drew big numbers. Three policeman (one off duty) called in for lengthy chats, and the lady Mayor came by after opening the event, to recall past panther viewings on her farm. Twenty two reports came in. I noticed seven were at dawn, four at dusk, and two in the late evening darkness. Two were from the previous fortnight, while one was 20 years ago, well beyond the usual lifespan of a leopard or puma. The filled-in forms had vivid quotes: “Wow”, “privileged”(x3), “shocked”, “disbelief”(x2), “excited”, “amazed”, “very surprised!”, “very lucky”, “impressed and happy”, were amongst the statements.  All these sightings had been at a reasonable distance.  In contrast, one witness claimed to see a labrador sized black cat up close. Her reaction was “frightened” and the situation described was: “large cat like animal crouched down until we got close. It frightened our normal aggressive dog. It ran off when we got close and realised what it was”.

As one of the Forest of Dean witnesses diligently completed their form I heard a woman utter her disbelief. There were reports in her area where she was a Parish Councillor, but she thought it all nonsense. I introduced the sceptic woman to the witness, who calmly described his encounter. The doubting woman looked scornful as she listened, then retorted: “Don’t you think some of us are conditioned to see these cats”. I suggested that if humans are conditioned then so too are our dogs and horses. “My dog froze”, “dog startled”, and “dog was instantly searching for scent”, were statements included on the day’s forms. The woman was disinterested. Her parish is a core part of the thickly wooded Dean, but any panthers there are phantoms of our own making.

The reports at the Forest of Dean included a recent one: “Big black cat sighting in front of vehicle crossing road – as big as large dog. Long tail. Moving across road quickly” read the informant’s form. Amongst the 132 reports made at the big cat tent amongst its nine days from May to September, this seemed an unremarkable account. But I noted the location: “Symonds Yat, 29 September 2014, 5 am”. The guy was just heading-off on a long commute. He said he’d no doubt what he saw, but he was unaware of who’d also reported a cat near-by a few months earlier. Was this the reappearance of a famous panther? The spot was a mile from Clare Balding’s revelation, live on radio in June.

Posted by: bigcat101 | February 23, 2015


It was almost like a positive DNA result. The broadcaster Clare Balding,  announced on BBC radio in June 2014 that she’d just watched a large black panther. You could hardly choose a more solid and respected witness. Walking near Symonds Yat in the Wye Valley, Clare was three minutes into her Radio 4 ‘Ramblings’ programme when she declared: “Gosh. We’ve walked out on to the road and turned left, and sitting in the middle of the road ahead of us was the most enormous black cat. Honestly, I thought it was a panther I mean really big, like a dog size.”

“I promise you I am not making it up. It looked very big to me. And it just loped, it didn’t scuttle, it just very confidently walked across the road and disappeared into the woods.” One of her walking companions, local resident Roger Smith was looking a different way but instantly replied: “I’ve seen it twice along this hedgerow in the last few years. It was the size of our Rottweiler and our friends have seen a big black cat feeding on a deer carcass.” Clare responded: “Really, is it a wild one? I saw it – I saw it really clearly. I should point out I never knew the stories of a big black cat here”.

‘The Doward’ episode of Ramblings is on IPlayer till June 2015 (see above link), so you can replay the moment and sense the wonder in Clare Balding’s voice. It is little different from the routine reports I hear as informants seek me out, to recount their astonishment at glimpsing a vagrant big cat in their own corner of the countryside.

Four months later, Roger Smith retraced the steps of that walk. He showed me and fellow trackers the hedgerow where the animal was spied by the famous witness. He explained that off-microphone, Clare Balding had dashed up the lane to look into the wood where the creature vanished. At the location Roger introduced us to an intrigued landowner. Nearby we chatted with a couple at an isolated cottage. They’d heard of another recent big cat report and were keeping their own moggie in at night. The terrain was God’s Own Country. Known as the Doward, precipitous forest slopes lined the valley as the river Wye enveloped the gnarled limestone hills. With abundant deer and underground escapes in quarries and caves, a black leopard could feel quite at home here…  (This is an edited introduction to a chapter from Rick Minter’s second book on big cats)

Posted by: bigcat101 | February 22, 2015


Here is a link to 2012 ECOS article on big cats in middle England by Rick Minter. It discusses people’s attitudes, from their disbelief to their reasons for keeping quiet on big cats…

the wildwood – ECOS 33 3-4 december2012

More ECOS articles on big cats are available in the compendium publication Rewilding by Peter Taylor, which can be acquired through the following link…

Posted by: bigcat101 | February 11, 2012


The above link shows snippets of footage, the full versions of which have been reserved for a forthcoming documentary.

I have viewed all of this footage taken by Coryn Memory, extracts of which were circulated in the media from 7 February 2012 onwards. I have examined it with various wildlife and mammal practitioners. Based on the scale measurements, all these people agree it is an important development for the following reasons:

It is clearly a cat, and somewhat bigger than a fox. The scaled measurement of around three-and-a-half foot body length and two-and-a-half foot tail means it is beyond the scale of a large feral cat. We do not know for sure, but scientifically, a leopard in its black form is one option for such a cat. That scale can equate to something like a female leopard, especially if the diet is mainly small prey like rabbits, mice, pigeons, pheasants and smaller deer.

The footage shows the behaviour of this cat at dusk in a freshly cut pasture. It appears to be taking the easy option of checking for mice and voles which are exposed after grass cutting. Large predators need to conserve energy in all that they do.

It is the form and the movement of the cat which wildlife practitioners have remarked on. Perhaps we should not expect a cat living here such as a black leopard to look and behave exactly as it does in its official home in Asia. Coryn’s footage shows a cat living in our conditions of grassland, scrub and small woodlands. We might be mistaken if we simply expect such an animal to look like its counterpart in its native lands. It is no use nit-picking footage of a cat because it doesn’t conform to our expectations – maybe we should change our expectations and consider what naturalising big cats may look like and behave like?

This cat seems to have a gracile form, more like we expect to see in a cheetah, but nobody thinks we have feral cheetahs in Britain, as they would reveal themselves chasing prey on open land. By contrast, black leopards and sandy-grey pumas, which are the main candidates for big cats here, need to keep stealthy as they mainly stalk and ambush prey, yet this cat seems unlike the classic form and poise of such cats.

Although the footage begs many questions, and it is far from clear what type of cat this is, it might suggest that big cats here may not always resemble what we see and expect from the text books.

Posted by: bigcat101 | August 5, 2011


Picture taken by a policeman on his mobile phone
It is often stated that photos of any big cats roaming the landscape would be snapped on people’s mobile phone cameras. With the mass use of mobile phones we are supposedly camera-ready, and primed to picture anything unusual which comes into view. But time and again witnesses of UK big cats don’t think about taking a photo until the chance has gone, and some witnesses who claim they’ve  been up close to a big cat were too alarmed and say that taking a picture was the last thing on their mind. Certain witnesses who think they may see the animal return, say that they now always have a camera to hand. An example is a milkman on a milk round in south Gloucester after two close-up encounters of big cats, and having customers claim they too have seen a big cat in the area.

The book suggests that we shouldn’t often expect to capture photos of these mammals, which are amongst the most elusive on the planet, although it does discuss the use of remote trail cameras which are starting to be used for all kinds of outdoor photography and which are coming down in price. Some footage is already becoming available from trail cameras, as discussed in the pdf article on this blog.

Different parts of the book explain why people do not manage to instantly grab a camera and get photo-evidence of the giant feline before them, and chapter three has an explanation of the challenges of photographing cats in the wild by wildlife film-maker Mark Fletcher.

But are mobile phones really the answer? Several witnesses have claimed they tried to snap something with their mobile phone but the image was too far away and blurred. An example is in the above link. When a cat has been up close to a witness, which is rare amongst reports, witnesses are usually too concerned about the cat to think of filming it. Somebody who did claim to photograph a big cat on a mobile phone is the daughter of Andrew Kirchin, when the family were driving on a back road in Devon. His explanation of the incident is contained in the book, and the photo, which he admits is not conclusive evidence, is shown here. Andrew works for the police force. What the photograph does illustrate is the standard of photo and the low resolution, which many mobile phones are likely to capture of a panther-like cat seen in the middle-distance. Perhaps we assume too much from the technology and from the state of mind of most witnesses when confronted with such a surprising and emotionally powerful moment.